You've Just Been Diagnosed...
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.
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.
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.
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
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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
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
My other symptoms
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.
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:
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.
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?
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