Essential oils for depression

Experts are predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will have profound and potentially long-term impacts on the population’s mental health. 

Depression is already the world’s most prominent mental health problem (Vos et al, 2013) and can be extremely debilitating. This article explores how Aromatherapy can be used alongside conventional treatment to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.

While many people can go through short periods of feeling down, depression can last for weeks or even months.  The condition is serious and is not something that a person can ‘snap out of’. People can be affected in many ways.  For example, they may feel miserable, sad and tearful, their appetite and quality of sleep may be affected and/or they may experience aches and pains (NHS, 2019).

A person may become depressed for no apparent reason.  Major life changes, such as giving birth, bereavement and redundancy can be triggers, as well as a family history of depression. People can however get better with the right treatment and support.  It is, therefore, important for you to consult with a doctor if you believe you are depressed.  The treatment will depend upon whether the condition is mild, moderate or severe.   For example, you may be monitored by healthcare professionals or medication may be prescribed and/or you may be referred to Talking Therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (NHS, 2019). 

While there may be much that you can do to help yourself, such as increasing your exercise levels, eating healthily, reducing alcohol, stopping smoking or joining a support group, there is no magic pill or solution for recovery from depression; it can be a slow process, and practicing self-care and self-kindness is an invaluable part of it.  Some people find it helpful to write down their feelings and thoughts and set goals.  Others may find complementary therapies, such as Aromatherapy beneficial, whilst others may find several approaches useful.  Regardless of what strategies are used, most can help support conventional treatments. 

Some essential oils, for example, are said to have anti-depressant properties and this is supported by scientific research. For instance, 32 people participated in an investigation studying the effects of  aromatherapy in alleviating depression and anxiety.  Over a 12 week period the randomly assigned control group received massage with carrier oil alone whilst the randomly assigned test group received massage with essential oils diluted in carrier oil.  The essential oils were taken from a list of nine and included Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), Lemon (Citrus limon), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), Rose otto (Rosa damascena), Sandalwood (Santalum album), Jasmine (Jasminum officinalis).  Both groups were monitored using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) or the Tyrer Brief Anxiety Scale (TBAS) and a Hospital Depression Anxiety Scale (HADS). Results indicated a significant difference between both groups with the test group showing a noticeable improvement in the results of the three scales. (Lemon, 2004). 

Table 1 - Antidepressant essential oils

Top NotesMiddle NotesBase NotesCarrier Oils
LimeRoman ChamomileRose OttoPeach Kernel
Sweet OrangeGeraniumSandalwoodRosehip Seed

LavenderYlang Ylang

You may wish to make your own blends to help manage your symptoms, and these can change on a day by day basis.  The essential oils shown in table 1 above are reputed to have anti-depressant properties.  I would recommend selecting a top, middle and base note taking into account, of course, contraindications, see table 2 below, using a ratio of 2:4:1 drops in 7ml of carrier oil. 

For example, if you wanted to create a blend to lift your mood, I would suggest 2 drops of Bergamot, 4 drops of Lavender and 1 drop of Rose in 7ml of base oil.  Bergamot is sunshine in a bottle and is particularly uplifting, whilst Lavender is relaxing and Rose, apart from having a beautiful aroma, is reputed to be an excellent anti-depressant.  The three blended together offer an exquisite aroma that can be enjoyed in the bath or for massage.  You may also wish to add the essential oils to a base cream or lotion in the same proportions and apply morning and night.   Alternatively, you may wish to try some of the recipes below, which are designed for different symptoms of depression.

Table 2 - Cautions / Contraindications

Essential / Carrier OilCautions / Contraindications
BergamotPhotosensitive. Avoid direct sunlight / sunbeds after application
Roman ChamomileAvoid if allergic to Chamomile or other compositaes
LimeThe expressed oil is phototoxic. Avoid direct sunlight / sunbeds
Ylang YlangExcessive use may cause nausea or headaches

Aromatherapy blends for depression

Restful sleep spray

Having difficulty falling asleep or suffering from poor quality sleep, this blend can encourage a good night’s sleep helping you feel rested when you wake up in the morning.

  • 10 drops of Lavender 
  • 10 drops of Valerian Root
  • 50 ml of distilled water
  • 60 ml spritzer bottle

Add the essential oils to the distilled water and shake well to combine. Let it sit for 24 hours. Shake well before use and spray onto your pillow before retiring for the night.

Happiness in a bottle blend

Feelings of doom and gloom can be soul-destroying, but this blend is intended to generate feelings of happiness towards self and others.  This blend can be used for either bathing or massage.

  • 2 drops of Bergamot
  • 4 drops of Geranium
  • 1 drop of Rose
  • 14ml of Peach Kernel carrier oil

Blend the essential oils in the carrier oil. Add to warm running bath water and relax in a warm bath for up to 20 minutes.  This blend can also be used as a massage oil.

Ready to take on the world blend 

Feelings of lethargy can be very debilitating, but this blend is designed to help increase energy levels

  • 2 drops of Basil 
  • 4 drops of Lime 
  • 12 ml of Moisturising Cream

Mix the essential oils into the cream and apply to the skin after a warm shower or bath.

Self-kindness blend

We all can benefit from self-kindness and this blend is designed to encourage self-care

  • 2 drops of Mandarin 
  • 4 drops of Lavender
  • 1 drop of Sandalwood
  • 14ml of Peach Kernel carrier oil

Add the essential oils to the carrier oil.  Add to warm running bath water and enjoy a relaxing bath for up to 20 minutes.  Practice positive affirmations, such as ‘I am happy, I feel happy, I look happy and I sound happy”.  This blend can also be used as a massage oil.

Peace in a bottle blend

This blend is designed to encourage feelings of peace and serenity and reduce feelings of irritability and restlessness

  • 2 drops of Sweet Orange
  • 4 drops of Jasmine Absolute
  • 1 drop of Frankincense 
  • 14ml of Peach Kernel carrier oil

This can be used in the bath or for massage as per the above directions.

Finally, for family and friends who want to support loved ones recover from depression, the final word goes to Eeyore and Pooh….

“All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel rather sad, and Alone and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All.  Which is why I haven’t bothered you.  Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun to be Around At All, would you now.”

Pooh looked at Piglet and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.  Eeyore looked at them in surprise.  “What are you doing?”

“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, because we are your friends.  And true friends don’t care if someone is Feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All.  True friends are there for you anyway.  And so here we are”.  A.A. Milne

Christine Fisk

Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

Read other articles by Christine Fisk

References

National Health Service. (2019, December 10). Clinical Depression. Retrieved February, 24, 2020, from www.nhs.uk: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/

Lemon, K. (2004). An assessment of treating depression and anxiety with aromatherapy. International Journal of Aromatherapy, 14(2), 63-69.

Vos, T., Barber, RM., Bell, B., Bertozzi-Villa, A., Biruyukov, S., Bollinger, I., Murray, C.J (2013). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study. The Lancet, 386(9995), 743-800

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