Host: Monash Medical Student Blog
Thank you Jeffrey for including my post Lithium Bipolar and Nanking with the following comments:
“Or perhaps… will they become suicidal? Could the war environment increase risk of developing bipolar disorders? If so, should they be treated with lithium? Retired psychiatrist and author Dr Am Ang Zhang gives his take at his blog 'The Cockroach Catcher', whilst remembering the Rape of Nanking.”
The full BLOG is here for your convenience:
On November 9, 2004, Iris Chang (張純如), who was propelled into the limelight by her 1997 best-selling account of the Nanking Massacre “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II”, committed suicide. Earlier she had a nervous breakdown and was said to be at the risk of developing Bipolar illness. She was on the mood stabilizer divalproex and Risperidone, an antipsychotic drug commonly used to control mania. There was a detailed report in San Francisco Chronicle.
My sentiments about the treatment of bipolar illness are expressed in The Cockroach Catcher:
“I am a traditionalist who believes that Lithium is still the drug of choice for Bipolar disorder. Tara’s mother was well for ten years. She was taking only Lithium and no other medication.”
The anti-suicidal effect of lithium has been confirmed by a number of recent studies in both the U.S. and in Europe. According to the results of a population-based study published in the 2003 Sept. 17 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA. 2003;290:1467-1473, 1517-1519), Lithium reduced suicide rates of patients with bipolar disorder but divalproex did not. Risk of suicide death was about 2.5-fold higher with divalproex than with lithium. Another paper published in 2005 (Arch Suicide Res. 2005;9(3):307-19) reviewed the existing evidence. “The article reviews the existing evidence and the concept of the anti-suicidal effect of lithium long-term treatment in bipolar patients. The core studies supporting the concept of a suicide preventive effect of lithium in bipolar patients come from the international research group IGSLI, from Sweden, Italy, and recently also from the U.S. Patients on lithium possess an eight- time lower suicide risk than those off lithium. The anti-suicidal effect is not necessarily coupled to lithium's episode suppressing efficacy. The great number of lives potentially saved by lithium adds to the remarkable benefits of lithium in economical terms. The evidence that lithium can effectively reduce suicide risk has been integrated into modern algorithms in order to select the optimal maintenance therapy for an individual patient.” The JAMA paper highlighted the declining use of lithium by psychiatrists in the United States and observed that: "Many psychiatric residents have no or limited experience prescribing lithium, largely a reflection of the enormous focus on the newer drugs in educational programs supported by the pharmaceutical industry."
One might ask why there has been such a shift from Lithium. Could it be the simplicity of the salt that is causing problems for the younger generation of psychiatrists brought up on various neuro-transmitters? Could it be the fact that Lithium was discovered in Australia? Look at the time it took for Helicobacter pylori to be accepted. Some felt it has to do with how little money is to be made from Lithium. My questions are: Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?
Now back to the Japanese atrocities in the Nanking Massacre in 1937, one of history’s worst but relegated to obscurity. The impact of Iris’ book and her tragic death was such on Ted Leonsis, Vice Chairman of AOL, that he went on to produce a film on the subject. The film, Nanking, premiered in Sundance Festival last year, was shortlisted in the documentary feature category of the Academy Awards, and won the Humanitarian award for documentary in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Mariel Hemingway, younger sister of Margaux, read the words of Minnie Vautrin in the film. Minnie Vautrin was an American missionary renowned for saving the lives of many women at the Ginling Girls College in Nanking, China during the Nanjing Massacre. In 1941, Minnie Vautrin committed suicide.
In July, 2007 the film premiered in Beijing. The BBC said: “It is doubtful, though, it will ever be shown in Japan, where historians claim the massacre has been exaggerated.” Experts estimate the Japanese killed 150,000 to 200,000 people and raped more than 20,000 women and children, but a group of MPs from Japan's governing party recently said no more than 20,000 were killed.