The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression will be the 2nd highest medical cause of disability by the year 2030.

Depression is associated with a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Depression itself is often triggered by a physical or emotional traumatic experience or series of experiences over a period of time.

Medicine and science do not truly understand what chemical changes in the brain trigger depression, though agree that our thoughts and emotional state are maybe involved and this is supported by what is known as “Beck’s Cognitive Theory of Depression”.


Aaron Beck, M.D., is globally recognized as the father of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and one of the world’s leading researchers in psychopathology.

Beck’s main argument was that depression was instituted by one’s view of oneself, instead of one having a negative view of oneself due to depression.

Antidepressants are the most common answer to depression, though research shows the relapse rate for antidepressant-treated patients (44.6 percent) was much higher than for placebo-treated patients (24.7 percent). So what are the alternatives to dealing with depression?

Step forward, Aromatherapy.

Essential oils have been used for therapeutic purposes for over 5,000 years by ancient civilizations including the Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who used them for cosmetics and perfumes as well as for rituals and spiritual reasons.

The first ever record was by the Chinese, who used to burn special herbs to encourage balance and harmony; the Egyptians, were known to use essential oils during the mummification process of their kings and other royalty!

The term ‘Aromatherapy’ can be attributed to the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who badly burned his hand during an experiment and plunged his hand into the nearest tub of liquid which just happened to be lavender essential oil.

He was later amazed at how quickly his burn healed and with very little scarring. This started a fascination with essential oils and inspired him to experiment with them during the First World War on soldiers in the military hospitals.

Aromatherapy for depression_2

Research has shown how essential oils have a direct effect on the brain

Indeed, our sense of smell is directly linked to the limbic area of the brain, which is considered the emotional control centre. This explains why scents can suddenly change our mood and feelings.

Ever noticed how lavender makes you feel relaxed and how peppermint makes you feel alert? That’s how the magic of these essentials oils works.

The human nose has the ability to distinguish thousands of different odours and the memory of these odours is stored deep in our sub-conscious minds.

A couple of hundred years ago, doctors would use the sense of smell as a diagnostic aid. Arthritis and rheumatism have an acid smell, a good midwife could tell a post-partum haemorrhage by the smell of blood passed, diabetes gives an acetone smell to the breathe and the urine.

Again, perspiration can give us clues as to the health of the kidneys and lymphatic system and the smell of faeces can tell us the type of disease in the digestive tract. Natural medicine still uses this method of diagnosis.

In 1989, Dr Joseph Ledoux from NY Medical University discovered that the amygdala (in the limbic centre of the brain) plays a role in the storage and release of emotional traumas. He also suggested that aromas could trigger an emotional release.

Essential oils carry molecules known as sesquiterpenes, which are capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier

These molecules have a significant oxygenating effect on the brain. The combination of oxygenation on the brain and the stimulation from aromatic molecules appears to assist the amygdala in facilitating the release of emotional blockages.

Using Essential oils enables users to access stored or forgotten memories and suppressed emotions so that they can acknowledge and integrate or release them.

The following essences have been shown to have an uplifting effect on the mind and emotions:

– Essential oils used for depression are: basil, bergamot, cedarwood, clary sage, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, jasmine, myrrh, neroli, rose, sandalwood, spruce, orange and ylang ylang.

– Essential oils that can have a positive influence on feelings of anger, which are associated with depression include: rose, chamomile, ylang ylang and rosemary.

– If the depression is associated with a loss, the essential oils helpful for grief and bereavement include: lavender, rose, frankincense, neroli, hyssop and marjoram.

What research has shown is that there is no one magic pill to dealing with depression. My experience of working with clients for over 20 years is that it is a combination of diet, lifestyle, emotional and natural products such as aromatherapy that have the best long term effects.


“Blue again: Perturbational effects of antidepressants suggest monoaminergic homeostasis in major depression” – read article here.

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