To Fix Migraine's Unfair Reputation, Let's Rebrand It
People who don’t get migraines don’t always “get” migraines. Sure, they might get the occasional one every so often, but you cannot fully comprehend what it’s like to live with chronic migraine as a disorder until you’ve lived each day in fear of the next inevitable attack.
In many ways, migraine as a disorder is having an identity crisis. What comes to mind when most people hear the term migraine? If the answer is “a bad headache,” then we aren’t doing a good enough job conveying the devastation migraine wreaks. As any migraineur will tell you, migraine is so much more than a headache. A migraineur knows when an attack strikes, almost any neurological symptom can accompany the headache component of a migraine. Head pain is just the beginning — one small piece of the puzzle.
Migraine is a common disorder, affecting over 38 million people in America alone according to the Migraine Research Foundation, but receiving as little as $0.50 of research funding per migraineur. Granted, not all 38 million have chronic migraine, but nonetheless the experience of migraine isn’t rare. How can a disorder affect so many millions and yet be so misunderstood and underfunded? More importantly, how can we get more people to recognize migraine for the hellish monster it often is?
The solution to migraine’s identity crisis reminds me of the concept of rebranding, a marketing strategy used by a corporation or organization to alter the identity of the brand within the minds of consumers. While an organization may rebrand for any number of reasons, several criteria will lead a company towards a decision to overhaul its image, including an inaccurate image and a failure to attract the right consumers.
So why is migraine deserving of a rebranding? Most importantly, migraine has an unfair reputation. According to the World Health Organization, “migraine…was found to be the sixth highest cause worldwide of years lost due to disability.” The loss of life quality that goes along with migraine can be exceptional. And yet the image of migraine in the popular psyche is of a minor inconvenience easily managed with Tylenol.
Just imagine that at any time, on any day, sometimes every day, you will be suddenly stricken with an indescribable pain that will render you fatigued and nauseated to the point that you are incapacitated and have to lie in a dark room for hours or even days while the people around you continue on with their lives. Such is the life of a chronic migraineur. We can probably all agree, then, that migraine has an undeserved reputation as “just a headache.”
When an organization isn’t able to gain the attention of the right funders, rebranding might be one solution. Maybe an organization isn’t demonstrating the utility of their product to the right people, or maybe they haven’t been able to market to the right consumers under their current branding. Either way, overhauling the brand can sometimes attract funders who can drive the organization back towards a profit.
Rebranding, for migraine, might mean a name change. The difference in the case of migraine, of course, is that the new term would actually seek out increased negative associations representing the unique horror of migraine. Maybe something that doesn’t trivialize the disorder might better represent migraine, like “Neurovascular Plague” or “Incapacitating Brain Attack.” Some other chronic migraineurs suggested to me things like “Brain Scrambler,” “Brain Cracks” or “Vise-Grip Head.”
If you’re a migraineur, you know that having a migraine is a whole-body experience. A migraine is all-encompassing and cannot be ignored, affecting at both an emotional and a physical level. Attacks can be so bad that a migraineur can spend much of the time in between migraines dreading the arrival of the next one. The severity of a migraine just isn’t understood enough in the general population, which can be one reason migraine isn’t getting the funding it needs. If we can get philanthropists to truly understand migraine as a disease, then they may be more tempted to appropriate funds to treating migraine.
Migraine certainly isn’t the only invisible illness in need of a rebranding, and a rebranding strategy can also apply to similarly misunderstood disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome. But I have a lot of personal experience with chronic migraine, and that is why I decided to focus my post on migraine specifically. Migraine is a word casually tossed about in everyday speech far too often, and far too inaccurately.
However we decide to rebrand migraine, we need to ensure our message gets across: Migraine is more than a headache, it is more than a minor inconvenience and it isn’t just “all in our heads.”