Get optimistic

If like me you suffer from an affective disorder, you've probably had the continuous or occasional need to track your mood state. Whether it's tracking triggers and social rhythms as part of a therapeutic regime or tracking the effectiveness of medicinal treatment or dosage, having a simple way to log your day is important.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years ago, my diagnosing psychiatrist instructed me to come off the antidepressant my GP had prescribed as soon as I felt a bit better. His advice was, once I'd moved from my self-rating of fifty percent to around eighty percent, I should start reducing the dosage. This left me with a conundrum of how to monitor when I'd reached eighty percent.

My initial method was a spreadsheet I designed which monitored not just my mood state but a number of my symptoms and wellness activities. It's still a useful tool and I've made a PDF (preview at end of post) and Excel version available for download. In fact, my treating psychiatrist and I continued to use it for nearly a year as I underwent interpersonal therapy (IPT). It helped identify that sleep was the first factor to affect my wellbeing.

As I moved into using my mobile devices more, exploring the plethora of apps available has given me a number of supporting tools to help me monitor my condition, from goal setting tools to sleep and fitness trackers. But the initial hunt, around 18 months ago for a viable, pre-configured mood monitor with the comprehensive set of indicators didn't turn up anything quite as friendly or accessible as my old spreadsheet.

Recently, however, a few have come up which are a great improvement and after trying out a few, I've settled on Optimism by Optimism Apps. Although they have web, Windows and Mac versions, I've stuck with iOS one on my iPhone. You're forced to register an account in order to use the app, but it is free for personal use. A clinician version, which allows you to coordinate your record keeping with your psychiatrist is a pay service for the clinician in question.

What I like about Optimism is that it separates off the 'core' data that I should be tracking everyday from the mass of triggers, symptoms and wellness strategies that I need to monitor more closely when my mood state shifts or becomes erratic. It makes recording the basic information quick and relatively painless. Even better, the data I record is immediately synched so whether I'm logging or reviewing via my iPhone, iPad or the website, I'm not locked to a particular device, location or mode of use.

Whilst it is pretty limited, you can also configure some of the data you decide to track. Being bipolar with a history of rapid mood cycles, it's important for me to track two moods as part of my basic data because the difference between my high mood and low mood can indicate my level of stability. Again, as bipolar and having identified that sleep, or lack of, is an important trigger, tracking sleep quality and duration can serve as an early warning signal.

What's great is even after a month of use I can already see trends in my core data. Easily reviewed through a graphical representation. Spikes of better mood during weekends, for example. Over time, no doubt I'll begin to see correlation with other factors as I try to bring my exercise, social and eating habits back in line.

Optimism Mental Health Apps for Self-Tracking
Having looked at my first month of data with my psych, we were both pleased with how easy it was to review the social rhythms aspects and just my general mood trend. Much easier than my old spreadsheets! And, if I'd been a little more organised last week, I could have sent the graph early for review using the email sharing function.

Some words of advice:

Unlike some other apps, such as 'Better Mood Tracker', Optimism doesn't give you a set of descriptors for the grading scale so you should set yourself a standard one by which you can assess mood. Nominally, mine for example "feeling teary or upset but no tears or external symptom = 4", "actual tears or external symptom = 3", "disrupts normal function sometime during the day = 2", "incapacitated for a significant part of the day = 1", "oh dear, can't get up or hitting the couch and staring at cobwebs = 0". If you're stuck hunt around on the web, there's a few examples out there, some including specifics around suicidal ideation.

If you are undergoing treatment, talk through what you intend to monitor and how you'll use it with your clinician.

Try and log daily or every couple of days. As time passes you won't necessary remember what happened or what you did. And if, like me, memory is affected by your mood cycle, that can be a real impediment to this being a useful tool.
PDF template
Share on Google Plus
    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment


Post a Comment