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.
|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
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
Here are some reasons to chart:
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 OptionsThese 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)
(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.
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.
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.