Psychiatric assessment of mood instability: qualitative study of patient experience
Amy C. Bilderbeck, Kate E. A. Saunders, Jonathan Price, Guy M. Goodwin
  • Declaration of interest

    G.M.G. received grants/research support, consulting fees and honoraria within the past 3 years from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cephalon/Teva, Eli Lilly, Lundbeck, Otsuka, P1Vital, Roche, Servier, Sunovion and Takeda.



Mood instability is a common reason for psychiatric referral. Very little is known about how patients with unstable mood experience assessment and diagnosis.


To investigate the experiences of assessment and diagnosis among patients with mood instability and to suggest improvements to this process.


Qualitative study, gathering data through individual interviews with 28 people experiencing mood instability and receiving a psychiatric assessment in secondary care.


Participants described the importance of receiving an explanation for their symptoms; the value of a good interpersonal relationship with their clinician(s); being listened to and acknowledged; and being involved in and informed about clinical decisions. These needs were not, however, consistently met. Receiving a psychiatric diagnosis, including a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, evoked both positive and negative responses among participants, relating to stigma, personal understanding and responsibility, prognosis and treatment.


Patients with mood instability seek explanation for their symptoms and difficulties, empathetic care and consistent support as much as cure. Clinicians may incorrectly assume what patients’ attitudes towards diagnosis are, a mismatch which may hamper the development of a strong therapeutic relationship. Clear, patient-centred communication, which acknowledges the patient’s experience, may result in greater patient engagement and satisfaction.


  • Funding

    This report is independent research commissioned by the NHS Research for Patient Benefit Programme (PG-PB-0909-19070).

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