When to See a Doctor for Changes in Mood
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.
Some common causes of normal changes in mood (including abrupt mood swings) that generally don’t require medical intervention include:
Adolescence and the hormonal changes it causes
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:
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Side effects of medications prescribed for a medical condition
Underlying medical condition, such as a brain tumor
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
Physical activity, such as taking a brisk walk
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
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.
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.