43 thoughts on “Does depression have a smell?”

  1. Yes! I have noticed this and I’ve never mentioned it to anyone but I had this friend who suffers from severe mental illness and, depression. One day she asked to meet with me at a park, she was not doing so well. So I did and I’ve remembered the scent since. When I smell it on someone I get so distracted and think I’m going crazy, then one day I smelled it on my brother. What you described is exactly what I smelled on my friend and my brother. I firmly believe that depression does have a smell, else it was something that I still do not know.

      1. Its so strange i came across this. I googled this once, just to see if anyone else you know.. feels the same. Its crazy how people can relate. I honestly thought I was the only one. I’m a 17 yr old girl who has delt with depression since god knows how long. And when it comes to depression i know when its coming back to get me/others. I can sense all the signs. One of them being a smell. Like you said , it isn’t exactly a “Bad” or ” unplesant” smell but rather a “uncommon” smell. I mean when you sit back and think about the common sense side of it , it could be Many reasons. One of the many signs of depression is lack of personal hygiene. Because of that, the smell of idk “BO” can linger. And again it doesn’t need to be a bad smell but when someone is trapped in one place for soooo long. Like a room … caved in.. there WILL be a smell lol. But even then.. still… its just a strange strange smell that even common sense just cant explain.

        1. Thank you so much for commenting as a person with lived experience. It really helps those of us supporting a loved one with depression. I guess the good thing about being self-aware enough to smell warning signs a depressive episode is coming is maybe you can enlist strategies? Medication? I hope I’m not belittling your experience, Bianca. But maybe there is a good thing about this. It’s funny there is not more information about this topic any where.

  2. I was wondering this tonight as the last six months I have smelled a different scent (kind of a sweet, musty, almost-fungal smell) in my 16-year-old daughter’s bedroom that smells almost exactly like the scent of my oldest daughter’s room when she went through an awful depressive episode. No one else has noticed it but me.

    That darn Junior year of high school is rough and something seems to trigger it in a lot of kids that age. I keep asking my 16-year old if she is depressed which she always denies, but there are way too many signs pointing to it. She doesn’t talk with or hang out with family or friends as much as she used to and just seems changed. My oldest was in denial as well until she had a complete breakdown and was unable to function pretty much the rest of high school. She is now 21 and doing so much better. I don’t want it to get to that point with my second daughter, but, yes, that distinctive smell is there.

    1. Melinda you are to be commended for trying to open up the conversation with your daughter. My son was equally as stubborn. Do not hesitate to ask her, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You cannot put the idea in her head. Studies have shown that. But it sounds like she might be contemplating it. Maybe, maybe not. But I regret not asking my son that question. I didn’t know to ask it. Funny how we moms pick up that scent. I was the only one who could smell it, too

  3. I am a 72 year old woman (my mind still insists I’m not a day over 49!) and recently, like in the last couple of weeks, I have been noticing a smell of a cross between rubbing alcohol and ether. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it but I notice it more often when I’m sitting at my computer. I haven’t told anyone else about this and am wondering what your thoughts might be. Thank you.

  4. My partner of 2 years has a history of self-medicating with alcohol when severely anxious and depressed. My sense of smell is not always discerning because of allergies. When he was going through his episodes and I found hidden vodka bottles I assumed the smell was the vodka. More recently he is trying not to use alcohol but I was confused by the smell. I thought he was still drinking. Today he assured me he was not drinking so I googled depression and smell. I am glad I did because I found this blog! Now I know I can believe him when he says he is not drinking, and now I can recognize the smell as a sign of his depression. Thanks to you all for sharing.

  5. Definitely. There is some kind of smell that happens! Years ago I was in a bad place, I had this smell that was disgusting in my car and in my kitchen. We couldn’t place the smell in the kitchen and it was only me who could smell it. My car was cleaned and I can still smell it!! So it’s obviously me. This was a few years ago. And now it’s came back. It was first in my bed side draw. Now it’s in the bedroom. My partner can’t smell this.

    1. You know Allison, no one else could smell what I smelled despite describing it. And at the time there was nothing online so I thought I was nuts. It’s obviously a thing given all the comments I get on this post. Funny how others can’t smell it

      1. Finally some clue to where this pungent smell around my husband coming from. He has been suffering from anxiety and depression for a couple of years, very recently I have noticed a sweet pungent smell from his sheets, shirts and around him. I enter his room and I can smell it. It’s not sweat or dirt. I have been worried that he may be physically unwell too because of this characteristic smell but guess this is just his mental state. And surely I only can smell it and know there is some change no one else notices.

  6. I can smell this scent also, particularly on my mum – ever since I was little. She has always had depression but over the last 18 months has been diagnosed with bipolar, we’ve had a good year (after a stint in the psych ward) but just yesterday I was with her and the scent has reappeared, she knows I can smell the scent and we often talk about it. When I let her know yesterday I could smell it, she did say that she was feeling quite stressed & sad about her Mum as she is quite sick. So it is very interesting…. I also could smell it on very few customers when I use to work at a resort, and often thought if they were in the same boat as my mum. I could also smell it on a coworker, who I came to find out had post natal depression.

    I thought I was the only one!

    1. Ruby that’s remarkable that you have sensed this on so many. Usually only service dogs have a radar that fine tuned. Few humans do. What a wonderful daughter you are to support your mom. Thank you for sharing your story. When I wrote it, I, too, thought I was the only one.

  7. My mother would go through depressive states and I remember taking note of that with my sister when we were young. It’s as though her whole physiology would change, her face, and manner, and she would give off a distinctly different stronger smell.

    1. Hmmm. I didn’t detect vanilla. Just sort of sweet and pungent. So hard to describe a smell. Particularly one you have not smell d before. And this was like that. Unusual but not entirely unpleasant

  8. I know what are you talking about…my best friend has been depressed for years and her scent is so strong I can feel it everytime we hug or when she sits next to me. Sometimes it bothers me because it’s incredibly strong and a bit sweet like you mentioned. I didn’t know it was common thing or related to depression until my psychology teacher said that depressed people smell a certain way and she said that she could “smell a depressed person miles away”.

  9. I wondered about this for a while. I have felt depressed in the past few months and the smell is very distinct. I smell it but my wife cannot. It smells like old sweat or if you did a batch of laundry and did not put it in the dryer for days. Its a stale smell.

  10. Hello
    Thanks for posting this – I just ran a search on the subject as my mother in law has a funny smell about her which i find quite over powering at times that i can’t be near her

    She is a clean lady but lost her husband about 5 years ago and has never recovered – she has had many accidents since then which has led to her braking bones etc… which have not healed well, which all lead to her being down.

    She gets into really blue moods and most of the time looks unhappy

    I couldn’t work out the smell, but thought maybe depressed people let off a particular smell
    It does smell a little clinical – so thinking that this must be what is causing it

  11. Hello Anne,

    I know what you mean, I could smell a very distinct and strong scent around my brother. It makes me feel bad when I recall I was always advising him to use more deodorant.

    He was psychiatrically treated and 3 years ago killed himself. I can still smell it in some pieces of clothes after him even after multiple washing. I always thought it was just his unique odor.

    Weirdly enough, I have started smelling it from myself lately! True, I have been going through difficult times now.


  12. I was diagnosed as chronically depressed they tried multiple medications I finally gave up and just decided I was gonna have to be all right. However while I was going through my depression there was a certain sent to especially if I sweat. You could mostly smell it on my sheets. My husband sympathetic it only down yesterday when I asked if something was wrong he said I don’t know. It lasted all day and into the night. He just seemed so down for no obvious reason. This morning we try to talk about it a little bit but he still seemed down. I asked him if it something happened or if it was just general. He said just general. When he got up I could smell it on his pillow and sheets. I know this smell… it’s depression.

  13. I have a friend who can smell when I’m having a depressive episode. Whe can walk into the room and know that I’m sad before she even knows that I’m there. I’ve read all the things about emotions and pheramones having different smells, but this is different. I’ve come out of a depressive spell recently, and my friend doesn’t smell my sadness anymore. I can be crying right in front of her and she can’t smell my sadness. She can only smell it when I am in a depressive episode, not when I’m just sad. I’ve looked for this answer for so long, and this is the first time I’ve found something that makes some sense and seems to fit. The only thing is, she can only smell my depression, not anyone else’s. Maybe it’s because she knows me so well. She can’t smell it on anyone else, including our other friends who have depression, even though she’s known them longer than she’s known me. Does anyone have any more thoughts on this? I’d love to know as much as possible.

    1. Sally- I, too, was the only one who could smell it. I would ask others and they’d say there was no smell at all. My son Charles did not have to be in the room. I smelled it in his room. I had no idea what it was at the time and for years I researched it, too but found nothing. Only after his suicide did I realize I had been smelling depression.

  14. Yes, this is exactly the answer I’ve been trying to figure out for years now. I first picked it up on a friend of mine who I became very close with, he had this sweet strange smell hanging around him all the time. Then over the years from time to time I could smell it on strangers around me, someone I’d be serving at my bar, or someone in line at the shops. I smell it on myself when things get close to be very bad and it scares me. It’s always the same smell, I wondered, is it drugs? Alcohol? Tears? The only answer I could come to is that it’s sickness, I’m smelling mental illness. What makes matter worse for me is that I can identify it but there’s nothing I can do about it, how do you walk up to someone and ask them “are you alright? I can smell you’re not alright, what’s wrong? Can I help?”
    I’m so glad I found you

    1. Oh my gosh finally! I see the stats on google. Searches on google to this post account for about 12 per month. But no one ever comments and I’ve been waiting.

      That’s it. That sweet sort of smell. And I don’t know how to address it but so glad to find another human being who has picked up that scent. I guess reach out to that person with kindness. That’s all I can think of. I don’t think I’d say depression right then.

    1. I believe I have experienced this. I know that I feel it in my body before an episode starts, too. You are definitely onto something. Hugs from New England. 💕

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