Functional Approach to Treatment of Depression

As an RN, I can see up to fifty patients/ clients a week, majority of which I will notice are on an extensive list of medications treating individual concerns. Most commonly noticed is an antidepressant. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). On average, around 1 in 6 women and 1 in 8 men will experience some level of depression in their lifetime. From their, they will then be prescribed some form of antidepressant. (1)

Now, I am not writing this blog post to state that taking an antidepressant is wrong, as they can often be effective, however, I am aiming to open your eyes to a well rounded and holistic approach to treating depression.  

The conventional therapeutic approach to dealing with a disease like depression is to wait for the problem to set in and then give you a drug to stop you feeling depressed. It is typically treated as a chemical imbalance in the brain (endogenous depression). This then leads to the prescription of drugs such as some common known antidepressants Cymbalta, Pristiq, Tegretol etc. But how are these drugs working exactly?

There are many different types of antidepressants, but a common prescription is the Selective serotonin re uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) . These are medications that increase the amount of the neurochemical serotonin in the brain. It is believed that when people suffer with depression they will  often have lower serotonin levels in the brain. The SSRIs work by blocking the re absorption of serotonin so it remains in the brain therefore helping with the treatment of depression. But did you know that 90% of our serotonin is actually formed in our guts?

Most antidepressants are generally safe, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all antidepressants to carry a black box warning, with the strictest warning for prescriptions. In some cases,especially in the first few weeks after starting or when the dose is changed, children, teenagers and young adults under age 25 may have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviour when taking antidepressants.

Often these drugs are prescribed with very little investigation into other imbalances in the body. This is where the functional medicine approach takes precedence. Addressing the root cause of any disease is always an effective approach. Functional Medicine attempts to eliminate things that cause imbalances in core systems in our body and aims to provide our body with things it needs to heal (like good food, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats etc). Looking beyond just the chemical imbalances in our brain, some other imbalances in our body systems that can contribute to depression, include:


  • Low thyroid function: When thyroid hormone levels are low, many organs and internal systems slow down, creating a wide range of symptoms — including depression.

  • Vitamin D deficiency: Have a physician  check your Vit D levels to ensure you have optimal serum levels

  • Folic acid or B12 deficiency: Along with vitamins B6 and B12, folate helps break down the amino acid homocysteine. High blood levels of homocysteine are associated with Alzheimer's disease and depression.

  • Omega-3 fats deficiency;  The brain is made up of fats and health ratios of omega 3: omega 6 fatty acids are absolutely essential to happy mood and healthy brain function.

  • Food allergies: Keeping inflammation at bay is critical if you want great sleep and a happy mood!  Gluten and other common foods may be causing hidden inflammation.

There is growing evidence surrounding nutritional deficiencies, blood sugar control, hormonal imbalance and all of the above creating a dysfunction in the brain. The mind is affected by the different organs of the body and vice versa. Some studies also show that problems with neurotransmitter production starts from the gut before it affects the brain. So why are millions of us expecting one pill to heal multiple bodily dysfunctions?

As stated above, approximately 90% of the serotonin in the body is located in the gut. The remaining 10% is synthesised in the central nervous system. The neurotransmitter serotonin can actually modulate motility in the gut. When levels of serotonin are off, this can cause either constipation or diarrhoea. Gut bacteria have also been found to play a significant role in the communication that goes on between the brain and the gut.

There is a huge body of research and excitement around the “Gut-Brain axis”. Many other prescription drugs, can cause havoc on the guts microbiome which can lead to depression and insomnia. Environmental toxins too, including additives, preservatives, oestrogen, pollutants, pesticides and metals can all alter mood by attaching to, or damaging, nerve receptors. (2)This is where I utilise Essential oils to help reduce my toxicity exposure and to help balance my central nervous system.

See, it is all linked! Please be mindful to listen to your whole body and seek help from a professional, trained to treat your body as an integrated system, not just as a collection of individual organs. Again this blog is not to take away from the advice given by your doctor, just to compliment treatment you make currently be undertaking.

Here are some research based Essential oil blends, to help bring balance and aid in mood elevation:

1. Bergamot

Bergamot has positive benefits for your mental and emotional health. It helps fight feelings of anxiety and depression by promoting the secretion of hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. (3)

2. Ylang Ylang

Ylang ylang is a well-known essential oil that helps fight negative emotions and depression. Inhaling this essential oil through a diffuser or aromatherapy inhaler can remedy depressive moods and promote positivity. Ylang ylang essential oil is known to be highly effective in balancing hormones, which can relieve stress and cortisol levels.

3. Lavender Essential Oil: Lavender was found to protect against neurological damage of the brain & used to effectively treat neurological issues like migraines, stress, anxiety and depression. (4)


*Please always seek help from a professional if you are suffering depression. I want to clarify that this article does not suggest that one should discontinue their medication.

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