Migraine is a common, often debilitating condition characterized by severe headaches often accompanied by nausea, visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. According to the American Migraine Foundation, at least 39 million Americans live with migraine. Unfortunately, the experience of male migraine sufferers is often dismissed or downplayed.
Derek Walker’s journey with migraines began in the 1970s when he was just 10 or 11 years old. At that time, the prevailing belief was that migraines were primarily a female issue. According to the American Migraine Foundation, a person with one parent with migraines has a 50 percent chance of developing migraine. The possibility of having migraines rises to 75 percent if both parents have it. Despite the statistics and the fact that Walker’s mother and sister both suffered from migraines, he often found himself overlooked and not considered as someone who could have migraines.
It wasn’t until the early 80s, when Walker began college, that medical professionals started to take his migraines seriously. However, the road was far from smooth.
“I had a migraine that was so bad I drove myself to the emergency room and this doctor was arguing with me that men don’t get migraines and I could barely see. My vision was blurry, I was nauseous and the only reason she took me seriously was [because] I vomited on her and her whole demeanor changed,” Walker recalls. “What’s happened over my lifetime is people don’t think I’m in as much pain because I’m a man, and especially a Black man, so they’re slow to prescribe the medication. They’re slow to even acknowledge that I have a migraine.”
“What it’s saying is you’re faking it…I’m in pain and your perception will determine how I get treated – how my pain gets treated – so it helped frame how I addressed medical professionals,” Walker adds sharing that these experiences caused him to feel angry and frustrated and put him on constant defense. “If it’s not a Black man or a Black woman, I know I have to fight to get the right prescriptions, the right care, the right diagnosis.”
The Impact of Dismissive Attitudes
Walker is not alone in his fight for equal care. According to a recent study of 2000 Americans conducted by Advil in partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, 68 percent of Black respondents wished healthcare providers would be more supportive when seeking help managing pain.
Additionally, 66 percent of respondents said their pain stayed the same or got worse after a negative experience.
“What ends up happening is Black men tend to die from conditions we shouldn’t die from,” Walker says. “I was slow to go get treatment because I knew I would have to fight with somebody about whether I needed treatment…Think about how dangerous a position that is.”
Walker, whose father suffered a stroke, knows firsthand the dangers of medical gaslighting.
Because Walker lives less than three minutes from the hospital, he decided to drive his dad to the emergency room. Once they arrived, he was told to fill out paperwork instead of receiving immediate care. Fortunately, Walker knew stroke protocol and was insistent on proper care for his dad, which prevented a potentially tragic outcome.
“Imagine if we had followed their directions,” Walker says. As a father to two sons and a daughter, Walker says the constant need to