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.”
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?
“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
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
- Cutting or hurting myself
- Obsessions (can’t stop thinking about something or someone)
- Panic attack
- Isolating/hiding from people
- Delusions (strange or bizarre thoughts)
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things)
CREATE A MOOD CHART/DIARY: IT WORKS!
Treatment and Physical Tracking:
- Check the days you go to talk therapy and support group.
- List your mood disorder medications, how many pills prescribed, and how many you take each day.
- List your medications for other illnesses and any other supplements you take.
- Check the days when you have side effects. If you have several bothersome side effects, use a line for each.
- Check the days when you have a physical illness.
- If applicable, check the days when you have your menstrual period.
- If applicable, check the days when you use alcohol and/or drugs.
- Write down how many hours of sleep you got.
- Write down how many meals and snacks you had.
- Check the days when you did some kind of physical activity or exercise.
- Check the days when you spent some time relaxing.
- Check the days when you reached out to other people.
- Check the days when you had a major life event that affected your mood. List the events if there are more than one.
- 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.
- If you experience a mixed state, check the box.
- Look for patterns. See how your moods relate to your treatment and lifestyle.