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Dear Hollywood, Please Represent Characters With Migraine

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Dear Hollywood,

Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world, and yet it is woefully under represented by the entertainment industry. I am writing to urge you to represent characters with migraine and to introduce storylines focused on their struggles and courage. Though I have seen some depictions of migraines, I haven’t seen it fully illustrated. This issue is important to me because I have chronic migraine. I experience many symptoms every day, including head and neck pain, extreme sensitivity to light, noise and scents, ringing in my ear, vertigo, nausea, fatigue and cognitive impairment. I have tried over 130 treatments with minimal success. Unfortunately, there are very few interventions left for me to try. I am not alone; 12% of the population has migraine.

There is a great need for migraine research and remedies. In addition, there is a shortage of doctors. In 2017, there were about 500 certified headache specialists in the U.S. and 38 million migraine patients. Migraine is also affecting our economy, with healthcare and lost productivity costs associated with migraine estimated to be as high as $36 billion annually in the U.S.

The stigma that surrounds migraine is a huge issue. It is impeding donors from funding and doctors from pursuing the specialty. Because migraine is often misrepresented, it is poorly understood, and many people lack compassion for us. Dr. William B. Young, of the Jefferson Headache Center explained:

Stigma imposes a huge penalty in the everyday lives of patients with migraine. It increases social isolation and causes adverse consequences to self-esteem and mood. Stigmatized diseases get less research funding, and payers are less likely to pay for the treatment of stigmatized diseases.

Joanna Kempner, PhD, author of “Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health,” pointed out that the migraine community needs a public awareness campaign that realistically represents the experiences of people with migraine.

As producers of popular television series and movies, you are in a unique position to fight this stigma. There is someone with migraine in one out of four households. You can help bring their symptoms into the light and dispel harmful misconceptions. Though I am a migraine advocate, I don’t have your platform or your ability to touch people by showing a beloved character bravely dealing with this. You have the potential to make a difference.

An increase in understanding and interest in finding a cure for migraine will bring more public and private funding for research, more medical students pursing the specialization, and greater access to care and treatments for people with migraine.

I hope you will consider the positive impact you could have by accurately representing characters with migraine in your productions.

Getty image by demaerre

Originally published: May 9, 2018
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