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Depression and Aromatherapy

Depression and Aromatherapy

This article is a personal perception of depression and how aromatherapy can help.

Depression is a holistic disease, that is, it affects the whole being. Any treatment therefore, should take a holistic approach and is as much about treating the body and mind in a clinical sense as it is in an emotional sense. You may be uncertain whether or not you are depressed. Everyone's experience of depression is different, and there is a wide variety of symptoms which are listed below. Many people feel down occasionally, or go through bad patches, but have areas in their lives that make them feel good, and like things about themselves. For some people though, life is more of a struggle. They feel bad about themselves and their lives in most ways. At times they feel complete despair. If you feel like this, then you are probably depressed. Recent research suggests that exercise is at least as good as medication for treating depression.

Symptoms of Depression:

Thinking negatively; always seeing the worst in everything.

Finding everything a terrible effort.

Being very irritable.

Sleeping too little or too much.

Eating too little or too much.

Heavy dependency on alcohol or drugs.

Cutting yourself off from others - including loss of interest in sex.

Unable to stop crying or unable to release tears.

Dealing with Depression

Depression spans a spectrum. At one end you can struggle on leading a more or less normal life, but feeling awful; at the other end the depression may be life-threatening and you may feel suicidal. How can you help yourself?

With moderate depression Keep as occupied as you can with things that really interest you.

Get physical - play sport, jog, dance - do anything that stops you brooding.

Do anything which makes you laugh.

Look after yourself physically. Eat healthily and avoid drugs.

Pay attention to your appearance to make yourself feel good.

Treat yourself from time to time.

Try to make your living environment as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

Ask for help. Others are usually very willing to listen.

Don't hold your feelings in. Cry and get angry if you need to.

Practice challenging some of your negative ideas - especially about yourself. Are you really a worse person or are you just judging yourself too harshly?

I cannot stress enough the importance of asking for help. By definition, because there is so much written about depression, it is quite clear that you are not alone. There are organisations, voluntary and otherwise, dedicated to helping you. This is what they exist for and aim to share their experience and if you want to, for you to share yours. Having read the two lists above, the first and most important step you can take is to recognise and accept that you are depressed. Only when you acknowledge the problem can steps be taken to help. The next step is to ask for help. For many, these two, seemingly simple steps may be the hardest decisions that they take in their whole lives.

Organisations exist for many of the more complex issues. Here are some suggested steps that you may wish to consider and for those of you who may know Bill W, they may recognise that much of his teaching is enclosed in these steps. The steps to consider for recovery are as follows:

1. To accept that one has depression and that one is powerless over it. That one's life has become unmanageable. This includes the acceptance that one is not only powerless over depression but also over one's self. Only by accepting defeat can one take the path to recovery. Until this first step is taken, finding any path to recovery will prove difficult.

2. Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore our sanity. Bear in mind that these steps are suggestions, not rules and you do not have to accept this step in full at this stage. Just keep an open mind, that's all.

3. Made a decision to turn one's will and life over to the care of this Power as we understood Him. If we are in state whereby we find it difficult to function doing it our way and by ourself, then let us try by asking this Power for guidance and help.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This is about sorting out where one is at. What are the mistakes that one has made and honestly writing these down. It is about sorting what problems we have and getting them into definable chunks, avoiding self-justification at all times. Here we are dealing with the common symptoms of emotional (in) security - worry, anger, self pity and of course, depression.

5. Admitted to our Higher Power, ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs (and don't forget that we may have things we have done well and right and admitting those too!) Up until now, the steps involve a lot of ego-bashing. This is the first stage of rebuilding the self. This is not about rationalisation but about admission. Yes, one has been an idiot, but let's clear out all that rubbish and prepare a foundation to move on.

6. Were entirely ready to have our Power remove these defects. This is about starting again, but knowing when to and how to accept guidance. Recognising the difference between striving for an objective and perfection - and how to distinguish between the two and how to be ready to accept that "perfection" is a dangerous concept.

7. Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings. Humility - the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit. With a proper display of honesty and morality, we stand a better chance of getting what we want. As long as we are convinced that we can live exclusively by our own individual strength and intelligence, acceptance of a Higher Power is not possible.

8. Made a list of persons we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. This is about improved personal relations. Irrespective of what we feel about some act or deed. if we were in the wrong, we are happy to make amends.

9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Remember that a tranquil mind is the first requisite of good judgement. Here we are ready to take the consequences of our past and to take responsibility for, and to include, the well-being of others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admitted it. This concerns keeping emotional balance under all conditions. Self searching becomes a regular habit. Admit, accept and patiently correct defects. When the past is settled with, present challenges can be met. We must look at the plus points as well as the minus ones and learn and practice self restraint.

11. Sought though prayer and meditation (and may be replaced by "or") to improve our concious contact with our Higher Power as we understand Him asking only for knowledge of His will and for the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, to try and carry this message to other sufferers and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 


As mentioned, thank you Bill W! There are many variations of the 12 step programme used by many organisations. This is, however, only part of the process and it is stressed that this should not replace a visit to your chosen health care practitioner.

For severe depression: Severe depression is when you cannot function normally e.g. you are not going to work/eating/getting out of bed, you are actively considering suicide. This is an illness or dis-ease, you are not the ony one.

Clinical Depression and its Treatment: Medication

Warning: what is written here is personal opinion, rather than medical fact. If there is any discrepancy between what you read here and what your doctor (GP or hospital doctor) tells you, it is their medically qualified opinion that must count.

Diagnosis of clinical depression

Clinical depression is an illness. As with all illnesses, there is only one sure way of knowing that one has it. That is, to have a consultation with a doctor, and to receive a clinical diagnosis. Of course, you may believe that you are depressed, just as you may believe that you have any other illness. However, whatever you may be feeling, it may not be clinical depression. By discussing your symptoms with your GP, you put yourself into a win-win situation. Either you could discover that whatever your signs and symptoms are, it is not clinical depression - it is not as bad, as serious as you were thinking. On the other hand, it could be clinical depression - in which case, there are a variety of clear and effective ways of dealing with it.

Treatment of clinical depression

There are a variety of ways of dealing with the symptoms, and causes of clinical depression. Since there is no absolute certainty about the causes of the illness, there cannot be an absolute certainty about its treatment. What is important to think about is that, however clinical depression is treated, the risk of any kind of harm arising from the treatment is vanishingly small.

Medication and Myths

A common treatment of clinical depression is with medication - medicines prescribed by a GP. There are a lot of rumours and myths about medication. Many of these stories come from the days when the state of mind associated with depression was treated with medicine that altered mood - happy pills. Often tranquillisers, like Valium, were prescribed. However, by changing mood the result was that symptoms were masked rather than treated. More importantly, from the patients' point of view, Valium used in the long term to deal with depression had some unwelcome side effects. Most significant was Valium's addictive property. So, from the use of tranquillisers to treat depression, many years ago, has come the most unhelpful myth surrounding the use of medication to treat clinical depression. That is, medication creates dependence or addiction. This is just not the case, today.

It is true that medication may be used for a long time. That is because it is a gentle treatment. The medication is not an instant fix. It takes a long time to kick in. Some reports on the possible mechanisms of the Prozac-type antidepressants (American Scientist Vol. 8 part 4 July-August 2000) suggest a mechanism that may take months to operate fully.

Another myth about medication in general is that there is something unnatural about taking medicines. This is possibly because people have a mistrust of consuming anything fabricated by a chemist in a laboratory. Let us just put this in context. For those people who believe that the synthetic is suspect or dangerous, while the natural, the organic, is wholesome, consider the following facts:
Cocaine and opium are both natural plant products, and they are usually produced organically. The most potent environmentally-produced neurotoxins known, the botulinum neurotoxins, are the natural, organic product of a bacterium that occurs naturally and organically in the soil. Humans who live in the natural and organic environment, whether in Europe in earlier centuries, or now in developing countries have huge infant mortality, constant problems with hundreds of nasty diseases and a lifespan of around 40 years.

Creating chemicals in the laboratory has two implications:

The first is that, because it is an artificial process, the product is bad for you. However, not everything produced in nature is good for you, that is clear, Equally, not everything that comes out of a lab has to be bad for you.

The second implication is that lab-made complex chemicals are in some way inferior to the simple natural substances. In fact, we tend to ignore the fact that everything we put into our bodies - everything our bodies are made of, in fact - may be a collection of complex chemicals. Just for example, cheese. A chemical analysis of cheese results in a list of some 300 chemicals, many with long and daunting names.

Medication and its effects

Medicines are supposed to deal with the illnesses that they are prescribed for, and - with more or less effectiveness - that is what they do. However, because both illness and treatment are departures from the norm, the medications may affect normal processes. The most dramatic example of this is probably among the medication used to fight cancer. Because anticancer drugs poison cancer cells, and because cancer cells are extremely similar to healthy cells, is it inevitable that the chemotherapy drugs affect healthy cells. This is why cancer patients may lose their hair during their chemotherapy treatment.

Side effects

By law, side-effects of medicines are made public. During the trialling of a new drug (and after that, too) every side effect reported by a patient a to their doctor gets noted and listed publicly. In every packet of every medicine, the information sheet contains a summary of every kind of side-effect mentioned. This can read like a bad dream. However, it does not mean that every person who takes that medicine will experience every side effect. For any medicine, some patients will not experience any side effect at all. The trouble is, once you get the idea that you ought to be feeling a side effect, it is probable that you will feel it. So, if the doctor (or the information sheet) says that you may experience a dry mouth for a few days, then you are much more likely to experience that side-effect than if you had remained in ignorance. This is strikingly demonstrated by the placebo effect. In drug trials, a group of patients are given an inactive medicine (a placebo) rather than the drug under test. This is to make sure that the results of the group of patients receiving treatment is not a random event, or the result of, say, receiving care and attention from their doctor (rather than the effect of their medication). However, very often, the group of patients receiving the placebo (remember, in proper drug trials, neither patient nor doctor know whether the medication is the real thing or the placebo) will report side effects. Side effects from a chalk or sugar pill? Well, that suggests that if one's body expects a side effect, it makes one to order.


The antidepressants commonly used today do not produce an artificial high. Rather, the intention is to reverse a deficit of specific brain chemicals.

Clinical Depression and its treatment: Complementary Medicine

Complementary medicine comes with a lot of anecdotal evidence to support its effectiveness. Unlike with classical medicine, complementary medicines (or practices) do not have to be officially proved to be effective or safe. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are not.

For many complementary approaches to disease treatment, it is possible to follow a course of treatment without seeing a specialist. If you decide to follow a complementary medicine approach, it is always worth talking to an qualified practitioner in the field. Professional psychiatric care is often necessary, but aromatherapy can also play a role (in conjunction with therapy). In fact, many professional therapists are beginning to incorporate aromatherapy into their practices. I deal here only with aromatherapy in outline.

When it comes to herbal antidepressants, citrus scents can be particularly effective. Orange essential oil, which is produced from orange peel, is easy to find and quite inexpensive. Even smelling an orange as you peel it helps-when you tear the skin, minute amounts of essential oils are propelled into the air to cheer you up. However, this whiff of scent may not be sufficient for someone who is severely depressed. In that case, try the refined scent of the orange blossom, called neroli by aromatherapists, or the less expensive petitgrain, which comes from the stem behind the flower.

Petitgrain can be useful when used in the bath to counter depression. This is a less expensive oil that works and blends nicely with Lavender, which is also used as an antidepressant.

Science has not yet investigated the use of aromatherapy to counter compulsive behaviour that is associated with depression, including eating disorders. Aromatherapists, experimenting with various oils, have discovered that the fragrance of another citrus, Bergamot, along with Grapefruit often does the trick. (Do not confuse this with the herb garden plant called Bergamot, which is in the mint family.) Children who are depressed usually prefer either Grapefruit or Tangerine.

Dr. Paolo Rovesti has helped pull many people out of serious depression using the citrus scents of orange, Bergamot, lemon and lemon verbena. He also found that Jasmine, sandalwood and ylang-ylang alleviated depression. Here is how Dr. Rovesti described the effect of these aromas: "Patients felt as if transported by the perfume of the essential oil into a different, more agreeable and acceptable world, so that many of their reactive instincts are curbed and they gradually return towards normality.

In sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Europe, herbals, clary Sage and lemon balm were suggested to counter depression and to help with paranoia, mental fatigue and nervous disorders associated with depression (though, of course, these disorders were not known then by these names). Modern aromatherapists concur. Writing in the sixteenth century, John Gerard said that sniffing lemon balm, called melissa by aromatherapists, would "gladden the heart" and recommended Basil to "taketh away sorrowfullness... and maketh a man merry and glad." Indians traditionally use Basil in a similar fashion to prevent agitation and nightmares.

Antidepressant Fragrance:

- 4 ounces sweet almond oil

- 10 drops each Bergamot and petitgrain essential oils

- 3 drops rose geranium essential oil

- 1 drop neroli essential oil (expensive, so it's optional

Combine ingredients. For children, replace petitgrain with Grapefruit or Tangerine.

Bath Oil:

To make a bath oil using this recipe, follow the same formula but use 2 ounces of almond oil instead of 4.

Antidepressant Smelling Salts:

- 6 drops Antidepressant Fragrance, without almond oil (see above)

- 1 heaping teaspoon rock salt

Drop the essential oil onto the salt. The salt will quickly absorb the oil. Carry smelling salts in a small container with a tight lid.

Overall, once the dis-ease of depression is accepted (that is, step 1) the immediate need is to start living within the day. If that is not possible, to start living within the hour. A common means of doing is start from the perception that, whatever problems may exist, right now, at this moment, the world is not going to end. If you are reading this, then one must have a computer which must be in the dry and must have electricity. So, we can assume that we have shelter and hopefully warmth. If you are at home or in an internet cafe, then one must have some form of money, so one should have food. This is pretty basic stuff, but it is a starting point. It is to this starting point that the twelve steps begin.

For further reading on the subject of depression, please read the excellent article by Wayne Froggat which may be found here.