Alternative Medicine Practices: Depression (Part 1)

in #health7 years ago

Image of Depression

Sadness is not a sin, but no sin does the body more harm than sadness.
Dr. Bernstein

Depression in Numbers

Depression is an ever-increasing diagnosed mental illness in the United States, with a report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry stating that major depression rates have increased in adults from 3.33% to 7.06% between 1991 and 2002. And as this is a slightly outdated statistic, more current research (updated around August of 2017) states that 6.7% of adults are affected by depression; and interestingly, anxiety affects 18.1% of the adult population - this is important to note because anxiety and depression have a high rate of comorbidity, meaning they are often diagnosed hand-in-hand, meaning depression most likely affects more than just 6.7% of the population. Depression is also more prevalent in women than men, most likely due to hormonal differences. More can be read here.

These numbers are scary! The health of the nation is in the best interests of everyone, as poor health can lead to lack of productivity and increased healthcare costs (this is a whole other topic worth discussing in the future). With the increasing rate of depression occurrence and the large number of adults diagnosed with depression, a plurality of methods should be used to tackle this condition head on.

Important to note: If you have severe depression, please seek the counseling of a medical professional. There are pharmaceutical agents like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that can help. This post is meant to provide alternative methods to dealing with depression in individuals who are looking for other treatment options.


Aromatherapy claims that essential oils are capable of improving an individuals overall health, as our sense of smell can provide a range of beneficial effects. For example, if you were to smell food or Grandma's home-made apple pie cooking away in the oven, such scents would provoke beneficial effects upon your overall mood, thus improving your health. So theoretically, smell acts physiologically through the central nervous system or the peripheral nervous system, or potentially through the limbic system, which deals with our emotions.

There is little hard scientific evidence supporting aromatherapy, however anecdotal evidence is widespread. Some clinical trials have been shown to elevate mood in clinical trials. Essential oils are flammable substances with a high allergic reaction potential. Do not use if pregnant, have liver disease, epilepsy, or kidney disease. Keep out of reach of children.

Essential oils have produced beneficial effects for many people. Aromatherapy dates back to ancient times, with the Ancient Egyptians using essential oils in perfumes, medicines, and cosmetics. In Ancient Rome, essential oils were often used at the bath houses and were said to have a beneficial effect on the individual's overall health. And even in medieval times, especially during the Black Plague, aromatic substances were burned in bonfires to prevent the spreading of miasms. Rene-Maurice Gatefosse, who can be considered the founder of modern aromatherapy, was a French chemist who burnt his hand while working in the lab. Using lavender oil and applying directly to the burn, the lavender oil benefited the healing process of the burn. Dr. Jean Valnet used essential oils to treat wounds of his patients during WWII. As more research needs to be done to prove essential oil's beneficial effects, essential oils have worked for some individuals.


The following are some essential oils that could be used to treat depression: Benzoin, Clary Sage, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Chamomile, and Neroli. To use these essential oils, hot/cold compresses, massages, vaporizers, diffusers, and baths are all potentially therapeutic methods. It's important to dilute your essential oils in carrier oils for massages, as direct application of some oils can be potentially toxic. I also do not recommend baths with essential oils, as this carries a high risk of allergic reaction over the entire body.

It's important to note that in a study done on 28 women with postpartum depression, aromatherapy had significant improvements compared to the control group of no aromatic substances on EPDS and GAD-7 scores with no adverse effects reported. A combination of rose otto and lavandula angustifolia at 2% dilution was used. As the researchers noted, a larger-scale study needs to be completed. Study can be found here.

Let me be clear, aromatherapy will not cure depression 100%, nor will any pharmaceutical drug cure depression fully. They will, however, help you on your path to health. They are solely a method to be used to place you in a better state of mind to deal with the emotional healing that needs to come. And for individuals who have severe imbalances of neurotransmitters causing severe depression, pharmaceuticals can help. Please consult a physician.

I, personally, am generally skeptical about each essential oil having its own specific effect. I find it hard to process the validity of essential oil usage when there is only some conclusive evidence supporting its efficacy. However, as an aspiring physician, I recognize that there are multiple paths to healing, and by not providing my "patients" with all the knowledge I have with a variety of different healing topics, I see it as doing a disservice. Definitely be wary of side effects, but in the end if it helps you then I cannot ask for a better treatment option.

I hope this post helps anyone who is struggling with depression! In a future post, there will be more alternative methods to help treat depression. Thank you for reading!


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