You've Just Been Diagnosed...

I've always had mood swings. I used to throw huge tantrums when I was a kid. As I got older, the highs got higher and the lows got lower. I lost several jobs and ruined a whole bunch of relationships. Finally, I decided nothing could be worse than living like I was, and I went to get some help.

What Now?

If you've just been diagnosed with a mood disorder, you are not alone. Mood disorders affect more than 22 million Americans. They are treatable, and you are not weak, flawed, or crazy. One of the best things you can do to help yourself in your recovery is learn all you can about your illness.

What's happening to me?

Mood disorders are physical illnesses that affect the brain. Their exact cause is not known, but it is known that an imbalance in brain chemicals plays a role. These illnesses also have a genetic component, meaning they can run in families. They are not your fault, and they are nothing to be ashamed of. Having a mood disorder does not mean you can't lead a normal life.

It was like my brain played a cruel joke on me. My energy and creativity were the things I relied on and when I became depressed they were completely gone, as was most of my will to live. There was no way I could 'snap out of it.' The depression was stronger than I was that's the nature of the illness. I'm so grateful that my treatment has helped me get back to living my life.

Think of your mood disorder the same way you think of illnesses such as asthma or diabetes. No one would ever ask someone else to think positive in response to the low blood sugar of diabetes or breathing trouble of asthma, and no one would think twice about getting the necessary treatment for these illnesses.

Do I need to see more than one health care provider?

Sometimes you will need to see one health care provider for psychotherapy or talk therapy (this may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, social worker or other professional) and a medical doctor to prescribe medication (this may be your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist). If you have more than one person treating you, let them know how they can reach one another. It is best for all of you to work together to find the right treatment plan for you.

What are the benefits of psychotherapy?

You may need extra help coping with unhealthy relationships or harmful lifestyle choices that contribute to your illness. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can be very helpful for this. Choose a therapist with whom you feel comfortable, and whose judgment you trust. The goal of therapy is for you to develop skills and behaviors that will help you cope with difficult situations and help you to become aware of, and possibly prevent, episodes of depression or mania.

I thought medication was going to make me weird or an addict. But after a few months, I wasn't really aware I was taking it. There was no 'high,' but I now feel a lot less depressed. As long as I keep taking my pill every morning, I'm able to cope with life. Things that used to make me cry and want to go hide, I'm able to deal with now.

Do I need to take medication?

The decision to take medication is entirely up to you and your doctor. Some people worry that medication will change their personality or be addictive neither of these beliefs is true. Medications are prescribed to keep your moods stable and keep you from having episodes of depression or mania that would interfere with your life.

What if my medication doesn’t work?

No two people will respond the same way to the same medication. Sometimes you and your doctor will need to try several different medications or a combination of medications in order to provide the improvement you need. Finding the right treatment plan can take time. Don’t lose hope!

It may also take some time for you to adjust to your medication. Most medications take two to six weeks before a person feels their full effect. So, though it may be difficult, it’s important to be patient and wait for a medication to take effect. Many of the medications that affect the brain may also affect other systems of the body, and cause side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, sleepiness, blurred vision, weight gain, weight loss, dizziness or sexual dysfunction. Some side effects go away within days or weeks, while others can be long-term.

Don’t be discouraged by side effects; there are ways to reduce or eliminate them. Changing the time you take your medication can help with sleepiness or sleeplessness, and taking it with food can help with nausea.

Sometimes another medication can be prescribed to block an unwanted side effect, or your dosage can be adjusted to reduce the side effect. Other times your medication can be changed.

Tell your doctor about any side effects you are having. The decision to change or add medication must be made by you and your doctor together. Never stop taking your medication or change your dosage without first talking to your doctor. Tell your doctor before you begin taking any additional medication, including over the counter medications or natural/herbal supplements.

If side effects cause you to become very ill... (with symptoms such as fever, sore throat, rash, yellowing of your skin, pain in your abdomen or any other area, breathing or heart problems, or other severe changes that concern you), contact your doctor or a hospital emergency room right away.

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What can I do to improve communication with my health care provider(s)?

Everyone deserves to have open, trusting relationships with health care providers. You should never feel intimidated by your doctor or feel as if you’re wasting his or her time. It’s also important that you share all the information your doctor needs to help you. A complete medical history, including your medication allergies, prior experiences with medication, and any alcohol or drug use, is important to your treatment. Sometimes your doctor will also ask for your family history.

You deserve to have the best treatment possible. If, after some time has passed, you feel the same way you did before treatment or worse, you have the right to ask for a second opinion from another health care professional.

Bring a list of questions with you to your doctor. Take notes so you can check them later.

Questions to Ask your Doctor

  • What’s the name of my medication and how will it help me?
  • What dosage(s) of medication do I need to take?
  • At what time(s) of day should I take them? Do I need to take them with food?
  • Do I need to avoid any specific foods, medications (cough medicines), supplements (vitamins, herbals) or activities while I am taking this medication?
  • What should I do if I forget to take my medication?
  • Is there a generic form of my medication available?
  • Would it be right for me?
  • What side effects might I have? What can I do about them?
  • How can I reach you in an emergency?
  • How long it will take for me to feel better?
  • What type of improvement should I expect?
  • Are there any specific risks I should worry about? How can I prevent them? How can I recognize them?
  • If my medication needs to be stopped for any reason, how should I do it? (Never stop taking your medication without first talking to your doctor.)
  • How often will I need to come in for medication management? How long will my appointments take?
  • Should I also have talk therapy? What type do you recommend? Is it possible that I could be treated with talk therapy and no medication?
  • Is there anything I can do to help my treatment work better, such as changing my diet, physical activity, sleep patterns, or lifestyle?
  • If my current treatment isn’t helpful, what are my alternatives? What is my next step?
  • What risks do I need to consider if I want to become pregnant?
  • How will other illnesses I have affect my treatment?

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How can I spot my warning signs?

Each person is different and each person has different triggers or stressors that may cause their symptoms of depression or mania to get worse. A trigger might be an argument, visiting a particular place, having too much to do, or a major life event such as moving. As you learn more about your illness and your triggers, you will be able to spot new episodes and get help before they get out of control. Be sure your family and friends know how to look for signs that you might be having an episode. Use a journal, personal calendar and/or the tools below to track your moods.

My symptoms of depression/dysthymia

  • Sad, empty, irritable or tearful mood most of the day nearly every day
  • No interest in or pleasure from activities once enjoyed
  • Major changes in appetite or body weight
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of restlessness or being slowed down
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms are different for everyone. Some people feel like sleeping all the time when they become depressed; others have trouble sleeping and stay up late feeling worried. What are your warning signs?




My symptoms of mania/hypomania

  • Feeling overly energetic, high, better than good, or unusually irritiable for at least one week
  • Very high self-esteem, feeling like I can do anything
  • Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired
  • Talking more than usual, feeling pressure to keep talking
  • Racing thoughts, many ideas coming all at once
  • Distracted easily, thoughts or statements jumping topic-to-topic
  • Increase in goal-directed activity, restlessness
  • Excessive pursuit of pleasure (e.g. financial or sexual) without thought of consequences




My other symptoms

  • Drinking/using substances
  • Overeating
  • Cutting or hurting myself
  • Obsessions (can't stop thinking about something or someone)
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attack
  • Isolating/hiding from people
  • Delusions (strange or bizarre thoughts)
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things)




My Stressors/Triggers

Arguing with a loved one I get anxious, my thoughts start to race, I feel like everything I do is wrong. Take a deep breath, remind myself I am worthwhile. Be aware of my own attitude, discuss this stressor in therapy or support group, spend less time with this person.

Take action as soon as you notice your warning signs. Don't wait for an episode to become full-blown and cause a crisis. Call your doctor or therapist. Ask a close friend or family member to stay with you until you are feeling more stable.

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What if I start to feel suicidal?

It’s especially important to have a plan in place to help yourself if you start to feel suicidal and to make a promise to yourself that you’ll use it. You can start by using the plan on the next page. Make a list of the phone numbers of trusted friends, health care providers and crisis hotlines you can call if/when you are having trouble. Your life is important, and as strong as suicidal thoughts may seem, they are a temporary and treatable symptom of your illness. Get help as soon as you start having these thoughts. One national crisis hotline you can use is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can also check your local phone directory or ask your health care providers for a local crisis line number.

Make sure you can’t get hold of any weapons, old medications or anything else you could use to hurt yourself. Throw away all medications you are no longer taking. Have someone else hold onto your car keys. Don’t use alcohol or illegal drugs, because they can make you more likely to act on impulse.

My Plan for Life

I promise myself:
If I start to think about suicide, or am in any other type of crisis, I will contact these family members or friends:

NAME:________________________________ PHONE:__________________________

NAME:________________________________ PHONE: __________________________

NAME:________________________________ PHONE: __________________________

I will also:

  • Call my doctor or a suicide hotline, or go to a hospital if necessary.
  • Remind myself that my brain is lying to me and making things seem worse than they are. Suicidal thoughts are not based on reality, they are a symptom of my illness.
  • Remember that my life is valuable and worthwhile, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
  • Stick with my prescribed treatment plan and remember to take my medications.
  • Remember to call my health provider(s) if I don’t feel safe or if I’m having problems.
  • Get in contact with other people who have a mood disorder.
  • Stay away from alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Have someone take away anything I could use to hurt myself.
  • Stay aware of my moods, know my warning signs and get help early.
  • Be kind to myself

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What are some things I can do to manage the cost of treatment?

  • Talk to your health care provider(s) and try to work out lower fees or a payment plan.
  • Use community or state-provided services, many of which offer a sliding payment scale.
  • Space out your allowable psychotherapy visits over time and work on developing skills you can use between visits.
  • Ask your doctor to contact the pharmaceutical company that makes your medication to see if you are eligible to receive free medication. Ask if your doctor has any medication samples to give you.
  • Ask your doctor to contact your insurance company and ask if they will allow more treatment for you.
  • If you are having a hard time getting insurance because you’ve had treatment for mental illness, your state may have a risk pool, which offers insurance for hard-to-insure individuals. You may find additional information at
  • Get help before there is a crisis. A brief appointment to talk about how you’re feeling or adjust your medication costs less than a hospital stay.

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How do support groups help?

When you are newly diagnosed, it’s helpful to have reliable, knowledgeable people around you who know what you are going through. DBSA group participants are people with mood disorders and their families who share experience, discuss coping skills and offer hope to one another in a safe and confidential environment. People who go to DBSA groups say that the groups:

  • Provide a safe and welcoming place for mutual acceptance, understanding and self-discovery.
  • Give them the opportunity to reach out to others and benefit from the experience of those who have “been there.”
  • Motivate them to follow their treatment plans.
  • Help them to understand that mood disorders do not define who they are.
  • Help them rediscover their strengths and humor.

People who had been attending DBSA groups for more than a year were also less likely to have been hospitalized for their mood disorder during that year, according to a DBSA survey.

How do I talk to others about my illness?

Telling others about your mood disorder is completely your choice. Some of your close friends and family members may have already become concerned about mood swings you’ve had, so they might be glad to hear you’re getting help. Other people in your life might have wrong or hurtful beliefs about mental illness and you may choose not to tell them.

Sharing your illness with employers or co-workers can also be difficult. Sometimes it may be best to say nothing about your illness, unless you need special accommodations such as reduced hours or extended time off.

Some people have a hard time accepting a mood disorder diagnosis. They may believe that a person should be able to control mood swings, or just “snap out of it”. Do your best to educate your family and friends by giving them information about mood disorders. Even if they do not change their beliefs, keep reminding yourself that getting treatment is the best thing you can do for yourself. Encourage your loved ones to get help and

There is help. There is hope.

Patience is a great help when adjusting to the effects of a new treatment, getting to know a new group of people, or waiting for your mind and body to feel better. If you’ve lived with symptoms of a mood disorder for years, you may have already developed patience from holding on and waiting for depression or mania to pass.

Always remember, you are not alone, there is help and there is hope. With treatment and support, you can feel better.

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Treatment and Physical Tracking

  1. Check the days you go to talk therapy and support group.

  2. List your mood disorder medications, how many pills prescribed, and how many you take each day.

  3. List your medications for other illnesses and any other supplements you take.

  4. Check the days when you have side effects. If you have several bothersome side effects, use a line for each.

  5. Check the days when you have a physical illness.

  6. If applicable, check the days when you have your menstrual period.

  7. If applicable, check the days when you use alcohol and/or drugs.

  8. Write down how many hours of sleep you got.

  9. Write down how many meals and snacks you had.

  10. Check the days when you did some kind of physical activity or exercise.

  11. Check the days when you spent some time relaxing.

  12. Check the days when you reached out to other people.

  13. Check the days when you had a major life event that affected your mood. List the events if there are more than one.

  14. Fill in the box that describes your mood for the day. If your mood changes during the day, fill in the boxes for the highest and lowest moods and connect them.

  15. If you experience a mixed state, check the box.

  16. Look for patterns. See how your moods relate to your treatment and lifestyle.

Talk therapy / support groups

Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat
Talk therapy check the days you went to talk therapy
Support group check the days you went to support groups

Your prescriptions

Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat
Medication name Dose # of pills per day Total number of pills taken each day

Side effects

Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat
check the days you had side effects
check the days you had side effects
check the days you had side effects
Physical illness Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat
check the days you had a physical illness
check the days you had a physical illness
check the days you had a physical illness
Menstrual period check the days you had your period
Drank/used drugs check the days that you drank/used drugs
Hours of night sleep record the number of hours slept
Number of meals record the number of meals eaten
Number of snacks record the number of snacks eaten
Physical activity check the days you did a physical activity
Relaxation time check the days you spent time relaxing
Helped others check the days you helped others
Major life event Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat
check the day the event happened

Mood tracking

Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat
Extremely manic shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Very manic shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Somewhat manic shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Mildly manic or hypomanic shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
STABLE MOOD shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Mildly depressed shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Somewhat depressed shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Very depressed shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Extremely depressed shade the box(es) that reflect your mood
Mixed state check the box if you experience a mixed state that day

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Mood Disorder Glossary

Manic episode: The “up” side of bipolar disorder; a period of high, energetic or irritable mood that interferes with life. (symptoms on page 8 )

Hypomanic episode: Similar to a manic episode, but less severe. It is clearly different from a non-depressed mood with an obvious change in behavior that is unusual or out-of-character.

Major depressive episode: A period of prolonged sadness that interferes with life.

Mixed state (also called mixed mania): A period during which symptoms of a manic and a depressive episode are present at the same time.

Dysthymia: A milder form of depression characterized by changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and a “down,” irritable, or self-critical mood that is present more of the time than not. People with dysthymia may say they are “just that way,” or “have always been that way.”

Cyclothymia: A milder form of bipolar disorder characterized by alternating hypomanic episodes and less severe episodes of depression. The severity of this illness may change over time.

Rapid cycling: A characteristic of bipolar disorder that occurs when a person has four or more manic, hypomanic, mixed or depressive episodes within a 12-month period. For many people, rapid cycling is temporary.

What is the difference between a mood disorder and ordinary mood swings?

  • Intensity: Mood swings that come with a mood
  • Length: A bad mood is usually gone in a few days, Even if moods go quickly from high to low, the person does not usually return to a stable mood for a
  • Interference with life: Mood disorders can cause get out of bed or causing a person to go for days without sleep or spend money he or she does not have.

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