The word 'depression' causes much confusion. It is often used to describe when someone is feeling 'low', 'miserable', 'in a mood', or having 'got out of bed on the wrong side'. However, doctors use the word in two different ways. They can use it to describe the symptom of a 'low mood', or to refer to a specific illness, ie a 'depressive illness'. This article relates to depression, the illness

This confusion is made all the worse because it is often difficult to tell the difference between feeling gloomy and having a depressive illness. Doctors make a diagnosis of depression after assessing the severity of the low mood, other associated symptoms and the duration of the problem.

Depression can take many forms, and stem from different causes, and Mother Earth in her generosity has given us a great number of plants to help alleviate it. The antidepressant essential oils are as diverse as the ways in which depression can manifest itself, and part of the aromatherapist's skill must lie in selecting the most appropriate oil or blend for the patient at any given moment - for the patient's needs may also change from day to day and even from hour to hour.

Depression is very common. Almost anybody can develop the illness; it is certainly NOT a sign of weakness. Depression is also treatable. You may need to see a doctor, but there are things you can do yourself or things you can do to help somebody suffering from the illness. What you cannot do is 'PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER' - no matter whether this is what you think you should be able to do, or what other people tell you to do.

People who have experienced an episode of depression are at risk of developing another in the future. A small proportion may experience an episode of depression as part of a bipolar affective disorder (manic depression) that is characterised by episodes of both low and high moods.

It would be worse than useless, for example, to use a very sedative oil when the depressed person feels abnormally fatigued or lethargic. On the other hand, if the depression is taking the form of restlessness, irritability and inability to sleep, such an oil may be exactly what is needed. Camomile, Clary Sage, Lavender Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang are oils that are both sedative and antidepressant, while Bergamot, Geranium, Melissa and Rose all help to lift the mood without sedating.

Where anxiety is associated with depression, Neroli is one of the most valuable of oils, and Jasmine is traditionally held to increase confidence, both in one's self, and in the likelihood of overcoming difficult circumstances.

Massage is obviously very important, because of the contact  with the therapist, but baths can be valuable too, partly because they can be taken every day, or whenever the client feels inclined, and partly because they involve the depressed person doing sonic thing for him or herself.

In helping people who are depressed, it is important to pay attention in the client's preferences in regard to the oil or oils to be used, sincethis will often instinctively be the right choice at that particular time. Changing preferences as the treatment progresses can give the therapist valuable clues to the changing moods and needs of the client.

Unfortunately there is no brain scan or blood test that can be used to diagnose when a person has a depressive illness. The diagnosis can only be made from the symptoms. Generally speaking a diagnosis of depression will be made if a person has a persistently low mood that significantly influences their everyday life and has been present for two weeks or more, and there are also three/four or more other symptoms of depression.

See also entries for ANXIETY and STRESS.

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