Recent research by the Migraine Trust has revealed that migraines are a vastly misunderstood problem in the UK workplace, with just 5% of sufferers believing that the impact of their migraines is taken seriously.
This comes on top of previous research that showed 1 in 3 sufferers claiming discrimination at work as a result of their condition. Indeed, with eight million people in the UK suffering from migraines, an average of two per month per person, one in five employees in the UK has had to take time off work as a result of a migraine headache.
Migraines themselves can be debilitating, and are more than a simple headache. The origin of a migraine is hard to pinpoint, but widening of the blood vessels in the brain is believed to cause the ‘throbbing’ sensation of a migraine.
The symptoms can have knock-on effects such as nausea and vomiting, and they cannot always be treated by simple painkillers. Many sufferers withdraw to a darkened room in order to escape light and other disturbances.
What does this mean for the workplace? First of all, we need to increase understanding of migraines. There appears to be a stream of thought that believes suffering from a headache – any form of headache – is something that should be ‘shaken off’ and suffered in silence. A migraine is more than just a headache, and indeed migraines can be brought on by office conditions.
Therefore, in addition to understanding, employers need to take into account the workplace as a potential supplementary cause of a migraine – for example, by initiating a workplace assessment for migraine sufferers. Are there any visual disturbances? Are they too close to the screen? Equally, are they taking a sufficient number of screen breaks, or working such long hours that they are causing a strain on their eyes, triggering a migraine? Is workplace stress an issue? If so, do you, as a business, have any proactive measures in place to pinpoint and solve the problem?
The World Health Organisation lists migraines as a disabling illness, so attitudes in the workplace have to change quickly – both those of colleagues and employers. The resulting improvements in health and productivity can result in improved profitability – all it takes is a more holistic approach.