91 thoughts on “Does depression have a smell?”

  1. I bring a different perspective to this discussion. I suffer from bipolar disorder and can actually detect when I am entering a new phase of my disorder (manic or depressive) by the faint smells that I can pick up on myself. It is not so much a smell that I experience, but rather a distinct taste in my mouth that seems to signify which mental state I am in. When I was younger I used to describe it by saying that I could smell and taste the neurotransmitters firing in my brain, but nobody ever believed me. I didn’t know that there were people who could pick the scents up on other people.
    P.S. thank you for all of your work in the mental health community. My father died of suicide 6 months ago and I really appreciate that you care so much as to help other people in similar circumstances. You are an inspiration. My condolences for the loss of your son.

    1. First of all I am so sorry you lost your dad the same way I lost my son. Losing s parent that way has to be devastating.

      And a taste with the scent. That is interesting, indeed. I have got to show this thread to researchers. I think it may help prevent or make people aware of their disease so they can combat dangerous feelings. I really appreciate your sharing. And thank you for the compliment. I have found a lot of healing by helping others.

    2. Dear Friend I will never meet
      I have bi polar 2
      I share the same brain disease as you
      I’m so sorry for the loss of your father
      He was suffering badly and probably was weary from doing so
      Please beautiful person do not let this disease crush you on top of the death of your father
      I too have had a double blow my bipolar 2 disease and the death of my daughter March of 2017 she was 24
      We need each other
      I need this website
      Please take care

      God Bless you


  2. Instead of connecting the smell directly to the emotion, the more likely culprit IMHO is an underlying disorder that causes both depression and the smell, which means the smell could be extremely important to research, not just as a biomarker but as a potential vector for treatment. I’d like to point to two resources I found interesting: 1. A TED lecture about the linkage between mental illness and gut microbiome, which specifically opens with a story about suicide and bad breath. Cannot find it right now though.
    2. For whoever pointed out metallic smell, the book about depression types by doctor wilson, who identifies depression caused by copper or heavy metal disorders. (I would not take this book as medical advice, but as anecdotal material.) nevertheless other metal disorders like Zinc could lead to differences in metallic smell/taste and are worth checking out.

    If the smell is indeed close to a pungent/fungal smell, yeast or fungal infections might be playing a role. Again, this is something I would not overlook and might be more of a cause than just a symptom. If anyone gets to check it and finds something – please report back!

    1. You are a wealth of valuable information. I will see Dr Lisa Horowitz soon and I will ask her. And a couple other researchers that work in this space. Would like to see what they say. Ok. I got some research to do based on this.

  3. This is interesting. I stumbled upon it this morning and i had noticed a very distint smell on my husband that recently came back and he is in a very depressed state. Yes the smell is very okay and somewhat sweet smelling. I find it draws me closer wanting to hug and hold him more.

  4. I found your blog as I googled the smell of depression.
    My son and husband both have depression. I can smell when my husband is depressed. It comes and goes depending on how low he feels. I notice it most in the confines of the car.
    I’ve never smelt it off my son though.
    I read about a lady smelling Parkinson’s on people and wondered if there’s a health study, as smell orientated detection seems to be a real thing.

    1. You introduce some new and interesting points. Therapy dogs know when their master is about to have an attack of vertigo, PTSD, or a seizure. I am going to bet they smell it. And some of us have sensitive enough olfactory glands to pick it up. Thanks for commenting.

      1. Anyone knows why I am so tired everyday? And I always feel anger and anxious. I feel myself so dump. My brain can’t work well any more. I am just 40. I like to yell at relatives. It is kind of relieve for me to say bad words.

        1. Depression causes tiredness. It’s part of the disease. I want you to know this is treatable. It absolutely is. If you can find a NAMI mental health support group you can find the best mental health providers to help you. If you want help let me know and I will try to help you find resources. Thank you so much for commenting

          1. I think the state of depression and mania too etc is so so so stressful on our human body , it is crushing our brains and our bodies are responding YES YES there is truth in this ! My daughter who had acute paranoid schizophrenia had hydrosis constant sweating This was a reaction or by product caused from her psychosis and hallucinations and constant pouring of sweat my baby suffered so much to this fucking cruel schizophrenia Fuck You schizophrenia Kick rocks people who judge and do not love

  5. Thank you for bringing this subject up about smell and depression. I can say with all honesty it does smell, there must be an explanation out there somewhere? Help? My Friend is seffering from depression , although she is in denial ! I have had this strong odour before with other people and family members , but nobody believes you ?

    1. Nobody believed me either!

      See if your friend will go to a support group. Tell her you will help her find a group and go with her. NAMI has chapters across the US. they often have groups. Thank you for supporting a friend with depression. And just remember, you cannot fix this. You can only help if she will accept help such as what I am suggesting above.

  6. I think I smelled it too. It’s a smell that can’t be distinguished, its like a musty-sweet-pungent,like a fungal something. so this is the smell i am smelling on my body,whenever I get stressed,it’s stronger. Sometimes I smell it on my friend when she’s also depressed. I thought my nose was just overly sensitive. when I was in school and in my lowest moment,the strong was stronger,I can smell it on some students as well. I thought I going nuts.

    1. I thought I was going nuts, too. And I do think not everyone can smell it. So it is something only those with sensitive olifactory capability can pick up. I keep asking my husband and a friend to go in my son’s room and smell it but they could smell nothing. It was so strong and pungent to me and frustrating no one else could smell it !

      1. I think too when one is depressed the showers stop the shampoos and body care too When I’m depressed I cannot move or brush my teeth either
        Showering once and twice a day and soaping all of our body parts and bouncing and behaving hair is : normal Depression kills normal it is as bad as this , the daily shower and dressing routine
        All my love to you out there
        From : Sarah
        Surving barely a woman of 55

  7. My son, age 19, has severe depression (I believe it is bipolar depression due to his manic symptoms in childhood). He isolates himself in his room almost 24/7. He rarely comes out. Over the past year or so, I noticed a strong, kinda sweet smell, coming from his room and I figured it was some sort of deodorant that he wears. For the first time in many months I was in the car with him today and it was overwhelming. I asked if it was his deodorant and he did not know what I was talking about. The fact that it stayed strong throughout the trip worried me. It almost gave me a headache and I had to keep the windows down the whole time. It was so strong. Not unpleasant as an odor by itself, but it was so strong. Is it a “depression smell” or is his body in a state of sickness because he never sees the sun or moves around, or sees the light of day? In a way, it reminded me of “old people smell” but different, sweeter.

    1. Yes, yes, that’s exactly what I smelled in my son’s room. A sweet sort of smell. Not unpleasant but very different. And I wonder if that scent changes with age. Because since I published this post, it can be a different scent with those who are older suffering from a mood disorder. I think it’s the state of sickness theory. Just that the onset of the depressive symptoms triggers the odor (for lack of a better word.) I’m not sure it’s because they are in a room I think it maybe a shift in brain chemistry and that has a scent. I’m not a researcher but that’s my thought process. Thank you for commenting

  8. I was always trying to figure out what and why I could smell this distinct odor that would at times be overpowering (a family member and a friend) were the two I can remember having this reoccurring odor at times…I thought it reminded me of a ham sandwich…seriously
    Thanks for the article, interesting…

      1. I came across this article and it never made me so happy. I thought I was the only one. I was searching for what that smell could be that smells sweet but nothing like I’ve smelled before. My daughter is bipolar and she always had this very sweet smell to her and I could never figure out what it was. We spent years trying to find the right combo of meds and when we finally did and they were able to finally to get her stable I don’t smell it anymore. I could always tell if it was going to be a real bad day by her smell. When I would wake her up in the morning sometime the sweet smell would be overpowering. Those days were the worst and I could barely get her out of bed. They should definitely do research on this.

        1. Oh my gosh that’s it! Exactly the scent my son had. And when it was worse, it became more pungent. During depressive episodes. Funny there is so little information on this topic. So glad I wrote this. I thought I was crazy. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Interesting it got better once the medication cocktail was right. I’ve not heard that before.

          1. I just googled this because I have noticed my husband has a metallic smell when he is suffering from psychotic episodes and thought it was just me. It’s good to know others can smell distinctive smells with a range of mental illness

            1. My husband has a metallic but smell. I log all his behaviors in my phone calendar. I went back today because he went manic again and ran off. The day before he left I swear all of a sudden at bed his temperament changed and this smell took over our room. I’ve very extremely sensitive to smells. Like so much so I stay sick the whole time when I’m pregnant. As a kid I could smell rain coming or snow. And now my husband will tell me I have a nose of a blood hound. So i look back in my calendar and see that I tend to smell this smell before he falls of the deep end.

              1. Wow. More evidence. And now that you mention the pregnant thing, I had that, too. I was hypersensitive to smells when pregnant both times and sick the entire pregnancy with my youngest child, the one who died by suicide. There is obviously something to this.

    1. Hi im imogen (London England) i suffer from really bad depression constantly. I only go iut when i must, usually at night time. I suffer from terrible Halitosis and saw one comment about too much zinc or copper. ???? Anyway thankyou fir making me laugh about the “Ham sandwich” first time ive smiled in a long time

  9. I have personally experienced it. I am on antidepressant pills for six years with less or no improvements in depression. A month ago I changed my psychiatrist, and hence he added a new medicine namely quetiapine with already using antidepressant. This addition of new drug proved life changing for me and I started recovery from as old as six years severe depression.
    Now come to the point of odor. Before starting getting better from depression to when I suffered from depression I have observed a changed odor in my sweat particularly of my armpits. As I starting better, I the first step my sweat odor changed and normalized. My wife, parents and friends agree this.
    I would like to add another thing in this discussion of odor OS that during my depression my sweat used to left a yellowish staining on my clothes specially in my armpits which doesn’t happen after my recovery.
    I belong to Pakistan and here a great number of people are suffering from depression. Antidepressant are so costy and the socioeconomic condition of people are so down. After my recovery I have decided to play my role in providing antidepressant to people who can’t afford. For this purpose I am looking for donations and people who could help me in my mission.

    1. Wow. Thanks for all that history. No one has ever had that much information. Thank you for what you are doing to fill that unmet need in your country. I am doing that here in the US by helping families pay for psychological evaluations

      1. Dear Ms Moss
        I am most certain that mental illnesses cause the body so much trouble ADHD I noticed has more asthma and depression and bipolar has physical side effects body pains and digestive issues There is no doubt our brains are wired so differently than normal people who do suffer from mental illness
        Your site depresses the fuck out of me but I’m not going to stop reading your RAW website because this is the only place I can go some days to read and peer with people who are suffering too as my fellow travelers
        My love to you and anyone who reads this


        1. I resisted starting it because it would bring people down. But I didn’t give a crap. There are some positive posts here promise. But I keep it real. People need to understand that mental illness is real and that brains don’t distinguish mental ilyand physical illness. Does not separate it at all. But we do. It’s all linked and the science shows that. Thank you for helping me understand it. I think you are onto something. Charles has stomach issues all the time growing up.

  10. I have smelled it on 2 people. They smell like a dead body- recently dead body, like a day or two. That sweet miasma.

      1. Yes! I smell depression too. It is exactly what everyone is describing a sweet musty fungal smell. I first noticed it on family members but now I am smelling it on friends and even on students in my class. Maybe there is a scientist out there that can put all of us in a study so we can start identifying exactly what this depression is.

      2. I can smell it on my husband about a day before he has depression or “bad days”. The smell goes away when he comes out if it. There should definitely be a study done on it.

  11. There is so little information about this on the web. Thank you! This validates what I’ve been smelling with my best friend!

  12. 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. Depression does have a smell I smell it on me. I smelt it on a friend and I was ignorant and thought it was just not enough deodorant but it’s a smell that I have had enough or I’m too tired, just tired.

        1. I am sorry you feel so tired. Probably the depression. I will say that I find those who suffer depression to have some pretty amazing gifts. I hope you find treatment that works. Thank you for commenting

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

          1. I smelled that on myself going through severe depression several years ago and I smell it during every reoccurrence. I actually was trying to find if other people could smell mental illness on others. I can smell when my partner is about to be manic. I smell it before the behavior change. Once I smell it my red flags go up and prepare myself. I have also told him about this but doesn’t believe me. I’ve been correct each time. I can also smell sickness on my kids before they have symptoms.

            1. It makes sense that one’s scent would change based on mood. But I think it is like certain sounds. It can’t be smelled by most. I think you have a particularly sensitive olifactoctory system to pick up all that. I believe you and thanks for sharing.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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”.

  20. 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.

  21. 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

  22. 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.


  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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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