As it is Depression Awareness Week I thought it may be helpful to share some tips on how mood diaries can be used and how they can help to monitor and manage a mental health condition such as depression. 

What are Mood Diaries?
Mood diaries are a form of record or log of your mood throughout the day over a period of time.  They can be kept over a short period of just a week or two or as an ongoing tool for for monitoring a longer term condition.  Mood diaries can be kept in a variety of formats.  You can use an app (some suggestions here) and record the information electronically, a calendar or diary or mood diary sheets, like the ones here.  

Mood diaries work by providing you a space to reflect on your mood, a place log it and a tool to monitor mood over a period of time.  You can write down how you are feeling, use emoticons or you can use a rating scale. Using a rating scale you would rate your mood on a scale of 1 - 10 where 1 is the lowest and most depressed and 10 is the highest and indicates feeling well.  If your mood can become elevated, like with conditions such as bipolar affective disorder and schizoaffective disorder, then you may want to make 5 the midpoint and the measure of optimum wellness as this leaves you the higher numbers to use to indicate higher moods.

When Should I Use Them?
Aim to record your mood at set intervals during the day, for instance in the morning, afternoon, evening and night time.  Having a routine will help you to remember to log your mood and it will give you data that you can compare. It will also help you to identify any mood fluctuations that may occur throughout the day.  

How Can Mood Diaries Help?
  • They can help to identify patterns  - Mood diaries can help you to spot patterns and times when your mood is lowest and when you are most vulnerable as well as times when you are feeling your best.  You can use this information to guide you when planning activities and structuring your week.
  • They can help to identify possible triggers and recognise helpful coping strategies - If you compare your mood diaries over time with the activities carried out in this period it may suggest potential triggers and actions or activities that have a detrimental affect on your mood.  It can also help highlight positive affects and activities that are beneficial to your mood.
  • They can provide support and prompts when seeking help or attending appointments - A question that frequently gets asked by mental health professionals when someone is expressing a concern about their mood, is "how long have you been feeling this way".  Having a record can help to back up any concerns you may have and help you to express them clearly and assertively. It can also act as a prompt if you are having difficulty remembering specific events or triggers.
  • They can be grounding during difficult periods - Depression can mislead and trick the person struggling with it into believing that things have always been awful and they always will be.  It can feel constant and never ending.  In reality our emotions are more fluid and changeable, so through keeping a regular log you will be able to see those changes.
  • They encourages mindfulness - In order to make the best use of mood diaries you need to be asking yourself "how am I feeling right now?"  Try to keep an open mind when asking this and allow yourself some space to think about how you might rate your mood.  This may feel like an odd exercise so it will take some getting used to.  We are used to asking others how they are feeling but we rarely ask that question to ourselves. Be honest with yourself and try and keep your record as truthful as possible. 
  • They can monitor the effectiveness of therapeutic input - If you have been using mood diaries over a period of a few weeks and your mood is consistently low then your doctor may suggest some kind of therapeutic input.  This maybe in the form of a talking therapy, such as counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or joining a therapy group or a support group.  They may prescribe medication or suggest making changes to your routine and trying out some new activities, for example some exercise or taking part in some more social activities.  Whatever form this input takes it can be very motivating if you can see from your records that your mood has improved.  It can also help you to express concerns if you feel that a particular suggestion has not been helpful.  If possible try to make gradual changes and allow yourself time to adjust.  Sometimes a change has a negative affect initially and then becomes more helpful over time.  If however you are feeling really uncomfortable or you have concerns speak to any professionals involved in your care as they may be able to offer some additional support and talk through any concerns you may have.
If you are feeling very low in mood and experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or you are contemplating ending your life do reach out for support.  You can do this by contacting your family doctor or local mental health team.  If it is outside of normal working hours then your local Accident and Emergency department should be able to help or you can contact your out of hours family doctor.  If you need to access these services be clear with the person you are speaking to that you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need urgent assistance. If you think this is going to be difficult write it down and hand it to the person on the reception when you check in.

A number of mental health charities also offer support in a crisis, including the Samaritans and Papyrus (if the person is under the age of 35).  You can also check the useful websites section for other services and sources of support or print out this worksheet with useful contacts details.  Sometimes just airing these thoughts and talking them through with someone can really help, other times something more practical is needed.