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Electronic Mood Charts -- 
free, no strings
(original 10/2004; updated 2/2009; "retired" 2012)

 

 

 

Here is a way to keep a daily record of mood, sleep, exercise and medications that will automatically graph your entries. The result looks like this: 

Pretty soon I hope someone will have a much better program out there that's cheap or free with no strings.  If you find one -- one you really actually use -- please send me some feedback and I'll post it below. Here are three that are worth knowing about, then my free use-at-home-no-internet version. 

Alternative Programs  Cost

Advantages

ChronoRecord One-time fee of $25 (tell the Association if you can't afford that).  Using it is really simple, a few clicks a day. Better yet, your information -- without any identifying information -- becomes part of a research program.  Cool -- you chart, everyone benefits, including you with the charted feedback you get. Plus, your doctor gets a copy automatically too!  

Here's a list of studies they've done using data from people like you. Fantastic. 

MoodTracker Free but your data is online and a pharmaceutical company built it Free.  I had trouble, in 30 seconds, figuring out how to start. Register, probably? 
bStable by McGraw Systems Pending Extremely comprehensive, amazing. This is not just for tracking a few variables, it is an entire monitoring system. You'll have to input a lot of data to really use it, but they're data you should be tracking somehow, if not entering all the time. 

Okay, want to try mine, then?  (I'm not making money here; see Funding page)

Here's a page of "Tips" on how to use it; write if you have one you'd like to share with other users .  


Introduction to Mood Charting

Why bother? 
Here are some reasons to chart:

Why electronic?
Unless you're a regular computer user, this isn't likely to be worth it. You could always just print a paper version, though for that you might prefer this Word version.   But if you have to use a computer nearly every day anyway...

However, even if you have decided that charting your mood symptoms is something you really want to do, you're likely to find this a bit of a chore, at least after a while.   I've tried to make it as absolutely simple as possible.  And my hope is that the graph will help you keep going, hopefully until your symptoms really smooth out.  After that you should ask your doctor if she really wants you to keep charting.  You could just restart the day some symptoms showed up again.  (Excel Tip: enter the same value for many days with one swipe, when you've gotten behind but nothing's changed.)


The Charts, in Different Layout Options

These charts are available in Excel and in another spreadsheet program called Open Office if you don't have Excel on your computer or prefer to use an "open source" (free) program. Open Office users go to your own page now. Detailed instructions on the Excel approach follow in the next section; you don't have to be really good at using that program (though it would help).   

Choose this option also if you'd like to keep a record of events which might relate to mood symptoms, such as emotional events like a wedding or the end of a school year.  You can also simply  keep a record of major events that would help you someday remember just what was going on at the time, e.g. when you added risperidone to lithium.   (Example) (view at Normal, 75% -- Excel Tip)

  Chart and Graph Chart and Notes 
# of Med's No Variables Variable
1-5
Variable
On/Off
Both Variables No Variables Variable
1-5
Variable
On/Off
Both Variables
4 4NV   4CV 4OV 4BV 4NVN 4CVN 4OVN 4BVN
5 5NV 5CV 5OV 5BV 5NVN 5CVN 5OVN 5BVN
6 6NV 6CV 6OV 6BV 6NVN 6CVN 6OVN 6BVN

(I think that's all the variations I can create. If you know Excel you can go wild from there.) 


Using the Mood Charts

The instructions which follow could look a little overwhelming at first.  Once you get it figured out, though, this is supposed to be very easy to use every day.  Although it will look pretty unfamiliar if you don't use one of these all the time, you really only have to get it downloaded and saved and then I think you'll find the rest of the process below pretty clear.   

You'll want the following instructions below while having the Mood Chart open at the same time.  Here's a trick for switching back and forth easily between the two programs with two keystrokes -- but don't overwhelm yourself now, trying to learn too many new tricks!  

Brace yourself:  just downloading this thing and getting it saved will probably be the hardest part.  Here we go.  

Instructions: 

A.  Saving your chart
Make a folder for your charts, perhaps titled "Mood Charts".  Pick a chart from the two options above and save it in that folder, but wait:  when you click Save As, you will be shown a dialog box with a pair of keys and asked to enter a password.  CLICK CANCEL.  Now try Save As again.  It should work properly this time.  Save the file in your "Mood Charts" folder.  

Now close the Web window in which the chart opened , and then open Excel.  Open the new file you just saved, and from here you will be operating in the actual Mood Chart program.  Save your changes every time you enter new numbers, of course.      

B.  Setting Up Your Personal Chart
As you can see there are a few things you'll want to personalize.  

  1. Choose your personal hypo- or manic symptom. 
    Click on the cell containing the phrase "Up symptoms" (at the top of column E).  You'll see a "drop-down menu" arrow to the right of the box.  Click that arrow.  You'll see a menu of symptoms.  Pick the one that describes your main hypomanic or manic symptom and click it.  (You might want to look at the scoring system before you choose). Now click once in any other cell.  The symptom you picked should now appear properly in that E-column cell at the top.  

    If you would like to enter some other symptom not offered, click the cell again, erase "Up symptom" or whatever is now in the formula bar (see it up there? just above the data table, immediately above the letters D, E, F, G, and so on?) and type in your symptom.  

    Obviously, you only get to pick one such symptom, so you'll want to pick the one that serves as the best marker for when you're getting manic or hypomanic.  If you have many such symptoms, or if you are uncertain about this, you could just leave the generic "Up symptom".  

  2. Enter the medications you are taking for bipolar disorder.   
    (You'll only have to deal with this step again when your medications change).  

    Click on the top cell in Column F.  Look up at the formula bar (just to the right of the fx):  erase "Med 1" and type in the name of your medication and the pill size.  

    The chart is set up to graph your medications by the number of pills you take each day.  For example, if you are taking lithium 300 mg pills, with a total of 3 pills per day, you would write "lithium 300 mg" in the top box; and then each day you took them you would enter "3" in that column.  Notice that there is a drop-down menu so you can enter everything you need to, each day, with a few mouse clicks. 

    (Actually, there's an even easier way.  Enter the number of pills once then use the Excel copy trick until the dose changes -- presuming you do indeed remember to take your pills every day.  The Mood Charts are intended to look for patterns in mood symptoms, not to make sure you write down every day how many pills you took.  Of course you could use the Charts for that too if you wanted, but I'd be afraid you'd take the pill and forget to chart it as often as you forgot to take the pill!)
     
  3. Rename the variable columns if you are using that version. 
    Just as you renamed your medications in step 2 above, you can rename the variable column.  That name will automatically be transferred to your graphs (keep it pretty short so it fits).  
  4. Enter your numbers each day.  
    You've probably figured this out already.  For each day of the month shown in column A, you'll enter a number value in each column to the right of that date.  Each cell has a drop-down menu so that you can enter numbers without reaching for the keyboard:  just click the little arrow that appears to the right when you click a cell.  

    (Every day you'll have to skip over that exercise column if you haven't done anything, but notice, you could even chart "5 minutes" if you park your car more than two minutes from your destination and walk!  Exercise is such a great medication, you might want to read my little essay on Exercise -- Not the Usual Rap. ) 

    The numbers for each column may seem intuitive:  minutes for exercise, hours for sleep, and a 0 to 3 scale for mood  -- negative for depression, using the drop-down menu; and positive for any "up" symptom -- even if it is a "negative experience" for you!   Here is more on how to choose a particular number, which also includes a discussion of how to add emphasis to a particular day or observation. 

    Women who are actively menstruating should chart that regularly also (that link shows how). 

    Not too bad, eh?  just 4 numbers to enter per day?  The best part is to look at how the graph builds itself automatically.  Try entering a few days worth just to see how this works (then use a tip to zero a whole column at a time again).  
  5. Get ready for next month. 
    Every month, open your "Copy of Mood Chart"  and then save it as "Month Year", e.g. "January 2004".  That way you'll have them automatically organized by month and year, if you decide to keep going that long.  There's a simpler variation if you're pretty computer savvy, but there's a risk of losing some data if you're not careful.  

C.  Printing Your Record
You should be able to simply print these charts, if everything is working right.  For now, this will be the easiest way to view many months in a row (by lining up the printed graphs).  Someday someone should build a better mousetrap, but it probably won't be free...


  Some Hints on Remembering to Chart

1. Make it a routine.  There must be a regular time of day when you chart.  If there can be a regular place as well, one that you always pass through at charting time, that would be best.

2. Trip over it. 
At least at first, until it becomes routine, you'll need to create a system that makes charting so "expected" that you'll have to go out of your way to avoid it.  For example, you could put a slip of paper over your computer keyboard that says "chart", and promise yourself every time you move it out of the way, the first thing you'll do is chart.  Put the paper back on the keyboard every time you shut down.  Something like that. 

3. Make an agreement with your doctor that you will provide these records to her.
Oh boy, now you're stuck, you've made a commitment.  And to someone whose help you're hoping to get.  So now you'd better come through on your end of the deal.  Better yet, ask your doctor to help by structuring your session with her around the chart results -- for example, starting every session by presenting them to her.  Or better yet (in my view), email the chart (as an attachment, e.g. "September 2004".

4. Imagine how useful it will be to have these records.
If your mood symptoms are easy to control, you may not need a continuous record as much as a person who has complex symptoms and is trying many different medications.  If your one of those complicated folks, though, imagine how useful it would be to have a continuous record of what medication you were on when, and how you responded to it. 

5. Use a paper version to gather data when you're not using your computer.
You could print a copy of "Blank", label it "month year" (e.g. January 2005), and keep it in your bathroom by the toothbrush. If you haven't charted electronically that day, you could chart on paper and fill in the computer version later.  It's only 4 numbers, right?  Or try this variation: put the paper version on a clipboard; tape a string on a pencil and tie it or tape it to the clipboard; and hang the clipboard on the bathroom door where it will clatter every time you go by -- to remind you to chart!  


Why make such a fuss over charting? 
Right now, it might not seem particularly important or useful.  But if you end up having a complex set of symptom patterns or medication responses, you might really like to have a record later, even years from now, of how you were doing.  One of these days this process will be a routine part of medical care, and your Mood Chart will go neatly, electronically, right into your medical record. (I wish it were that easy now).  


Change the Charts to Suit You

Here is a letter I wrote to one gal who asked to change the exercise column so she could fit in more time!  This might give you enough to go on to make the changes yourself, if you're somewhat familiar with Excel or fooling around with programs you don't know how to use, like me...

Dear Ms. P' --

You're doing two things I really like (and therefore will try to answer, despite having vowed to quit fooling with these charts): a lot of exercise, which is a very healthy thing; and trying to learn how to fix something, instead of just getting a fix. Good on ya’.

So, although this is a little tricky to explain in words, let’s have a go at it. Open the Excel chart. Go out to columns OPQRSTUV and select rows 1 to 35. You’ll see the variable settings, which I put in white against a white background so that people wouldn’t get confused by them or print them. Change their font color to something you can see.

Now go to the exercise column. Select a box from any row there, where you currently see a range that is too small for you.  Now click on Data, one of the menu headings at the top of the Excel program. From the drop-down menu, pick Validation.  You’ll get a dialog box with Source.

Now you’ve got all the anatomy you need. You could probably figure it out on your own from here. Change the variable column as you wish, and then change the Source setting to include all the variables you want. 

Don’t skip exercise to fool with this, of course! Good luck to you.