When to See a Doctor for Changes in Mood

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Was this helpful?
27
Young brunette woman at care looking off into distance
Getty

Everyone experiences a range of emotions from day to day—or even hour to hour. You might find your mood swinging from happy to sad to frustrated within the course of an afternoon, and that’s probably perfectly normal. But when should you be concerned about sudden changes in mood?

Because mood changes are a common human behavior, it can be difficult to decide when to see a doctor about them. In general, chronic or violent mood swings deserve professional evaluation. Find out other distinguishing factors between normal mood swings and those that require intervention.

Common Causes of Mood Changes

Some common causes of normal changes in mood (including abrupt mood swings) that generally don’t require medical intervention include:

Mood swings or prolonged changes in mood should be evaluated by a professional medical or mental health provider when they involve violence, interfere with a person’s ability to perform the tasks of daily living (such as working), make it impossible to concentrate on a task, or affect enjoyment of life. These types of mood changes could be caused by conditions like:

Mood Swings Treatment at Home

If your child experiences mood swings that you believe may be due to adolescence, you first should try de-escalating the situation. Give everyone some time to calm down, and then approach the situation from a rational, nonjudgmental position. If adolescent mood swings turn violent or seem never to abate, then seek professional care with your child.

Healthy self-care for mood swings can include:

  • Hydrotherapy, such as soaking in a warm bath or taking a hot shower

  • Listening to soothing music

  • Meditation

  • Napping

  • Physical activity, such as taking a brisk walk

  • Social activity

  • Yoga

When to See a Doctor for Mood Changes

Normal mood swings do not involve violence, and they do not linger for more than a few hours. You should see a doctor for mood swings that:

  • Cause excessive or chronic worrying, crying, anxiety or fear

  • Cause frequent nightmares or routinely disrupt your sleep

  • Cause hallucinations

  • Damage relationships with family members, friends or coworkers

  • Disrupt your ability to enjoy life

  • Lead to personally or financially risky behavior, such as deciding to have sex with multiple partners in a span of days or making impulsive purchases you can’t afford

  • Linger for days or feel ‘unshakeable’

  • Make it impossible to focus on a task or hold a job

  • Negatively affect school performance

  • Provoke episodes of violence or aggression, or a desire to carry out violent or aggressive acts

  • Provoke suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming someone else, you should call 911 for immediate medical attention. For other types of mood changes, you should make an appointment with a healthcare professional for an evaluation.

Who to See for Mood Changes

To protect everyone’s safety, you should call 911 for violent outbursts of mood. However, if your (or your loved one’s) mood changes don’t involve violence, you can first consult your primary healthcare provider for guidance on what to do. Your doctor may refer you to a behavioral health specialist for further evaluation. 

Psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, cognitive behavioral therapists, and other mental health professionals can diagnose and treat mood disorders or other mental health issues. Many of these healthcare providers specialize in certain age groups or conditions, so you can find an individual with expertise that matches your needs. Be sure to consult your insurer to find out if your healthcare plan requires a referral for mental health treatment or limits your behavioral health benefits.

If you’re in doubt as to whether you need to talk to someone about your mood changes, err on the conservative side. Mention your mood or temperament concerns to your primary healthcare provider. You can have a frank discussion and decide on next steps. Sometimes, asking a close friend or confidante about your mood can offer an outside, but trusted opinion.

Was this helpful?
27
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 1
View All Mental Health and Behavior Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Mood Disorders. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/mooddisorders.html
  2. About Mood Disorders. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. https://secure2.convio.net/dabsa/site/SPageServer/?pagename=education_mood_disorders
  3. Health Topics. U.S. National Institute on Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/index.shtml
  4. Know the Warning Signs. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs
  5. Mood Disorders. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mood-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20365057