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Civil Service

The Pain of Migraine

Visual representation of what a migraine feels like
Brain pain: Visual representation of what a migraine can often feel like for sufferers

The condition can be crippling, but what can be done to ease the symptoms? To mark Migraine Awareness Week, Paul Scullion shares his own experiences.

For the last three years, the Civil Service has teamed up with the Migraine Trust to mark Migraine Awareness Week and help promote greater awareness of migraines. 

This year, Migraine Awareness Week runs from 5-11 September, and we want as many civil servants as possible to benefit from the support available – sufferers and line managers alike.

Paul Scullion, Legal Secretary to the Advocate General
Author Paul Scullion

I don’t always know exactly what triggers my own migraines, but it’s likely to be a mixture of what I eat and drink, sleep (or lack of it) as well as the health of my immune system, excess artificial light and stress.  

I take medication to ease pain from migraines which can last for a few days or more at a time. I try to keep a regular routine and limit my caffeine and alcohol consumption. I also try to stay hydrated, take regular breaks from my laptop, and exercise.

Research undertaken in 2020 by the Migraine Trust suggested that migraines tended, on average, to be more frequent and painful during the pandemic. One challenge I faced was being unable to accomplish my work objectives through face-to-face meetings. I also became reliant on my laptop and the artificial light that it exposed me to. During the pandemic, I therefore tried to take breaks from the screen and conduct some meetings by phone instead.

When someone experiences a migraine, it requires understanding and support from managers and teams. Often it might just be a case of tweaking priorities and deadlines in agreement with colleagues, or making adjustments such as using phones rather than screens.

Changing work environment

The move to hybrid working and the return to the office is another significant change civil servants will soon be embarking upon. I think it offers opportunities for reducing problems associated with migraines - but everyone is different and some people’s migraines may get worse, at least for a time, due to their individual circumstances. 

Migraine sufferers and their line managers will therefore need to monitor this closely and make adjustments where required. How we do this is going to be an important topic we discuss during Migraine Awareness Week. We look forward to hearing your experiences and views.

Civil servants have demonstrated resilience and adaptability throughout the pandemic, so this is a challenge I know we are up to. I hope migraine sufferers and their line managers find Migraine Awareness Week, and the associated resources below, both useful and stimulating.

How can you get involved?

You may have seen one of our migraine awareness posters around your office or the e-posters circulated during the pandemic. There are many ways you can help support your colleagues and raise awareness of migraines. 

◼︎ Sharing the Toolkit: The Migraine Trust is in the process of developing a Managing Migraine at Work for the Civil Service toolkit – watch this space, but in the meantime please check out the Managing Migraine at Work toolkit.

◼︎ Reading our Blogs: There have been a number of very useful blogs by a fellow migraine sufferer, Zamila Bunglawala, Director at the Department for Education, over the last few years. Please check them out:

Coping with more migraines during Covid

Migraine Awareness Week: support and understanding in the Civil Service

Paul Scullion, Legal Secretary to the Advocate General,

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  1. Comment by Tina Desmond posted on

    Thank you for this blog post, I too have suffered since I was 15 years old. My migraines were so bad that the lowest the specialist could get me to were averaging 2 a week. I found it useful to keep a food diary as well as notes on my daily routines to find my triggers.

    Ultimately, the worst of them were tied to changes in my hormonal levels which led to the drastic decision to have a full hysterectomy in 2011 having exhausted all other alternatives.

    Despite their severity I think I only too a handful of days off and, as someone commented on one of the blogs you linked to, used leave and flexi to keep my sick days as low as possible. I was aware, however, that I could not do this weekly and thankfully, my GP made the hospital referral (though he did think I had lost my mind in the consultation when I requested the referral).

    The hospital consultants were amazingly helpful and gave me medication to stop my hormones completely for 3 months (same medication provided for hormone related cancers) and less than 3 or 4 days after my first injection I woke up to a completely different world. I could not recall having felt so amazingly great before, at all. Due to how successfully the medication stopped my migraines the operation went ahead and I can say that now I suffer far fewer migraines.

    I am sorry to hear that your migrianes have worsened in the pandemic Paul. Mine have reduced as I can work in a room without switching on a light, something that I could not do in the office.

    I do still get them but find many of them now and I get a much longer warning that one is on its way. Many team members have looked at me strangely when I have asked "What is that smell?" or I increase the size of the font on the computer screen so I can manage through double vision.

    One of the best suggestions I can make for migriane suffers is to keep a diary, tracking food, moods, stress levels, light exposure and for women to track their monthly cycle to see if any of the migraines can be reduced by acting on the diaries findings. Doing so is so much more helpful when trying to identify triggers.

    As with many other hidden conditions, migraine suffers find it hard to express the impact of such pain to those who cannot see it and haven't been provided. I was not aware of migraine awareness weeks within DWP so I will keep my eye open for them in the future.

    Paul, I hope returning to the office helps to reduce your episodes soon.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Paul for sharing your story. I am glad that you have managed to find a coping strategy and to overcome the challenges. Also, great that you have sought to educate and increase awareness on this key wellbeing related issue. I hope that your blog will inspire others.