Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lithium & Chile: Fry, Fisher & Nanking!


Stephen Fry has disclosed that he attempted suicide last year and only survived the “close run thing” when a colleague found him unconscious after he had taken “huge” quantities of pills and vodka.

Fry suffered a nervous breakdown in 1995 while he was appearing in the West End play Cell Mates and disappeared for several days, coming close to suicide.

In 2006 he made a two-part television documentary called Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, in which he spoke to other celebrities including Carrie Fisher and Tony Slattery about their own problems with the illness. In the programme he also disclosed that he had first attempted suicide aged 17 by taking an overdose.

In 2011 he said of his illness: “The fact that I am lucky enough not to have it so seriously doesn’t mean that I won’t one day kill myself, I may well.”

I hope he is on lithium!  
Unless he is doing a Carrle Fisher!

Santiago, Chile was the starting point of our cruise round Cape Horn. We had a wonderful guide who took us from Santiago city to the Valparaiso port, where we boarded our cruise liner. She was infectiously enthusiastic. She told us that apart from copper, agricultural products and wine, Chile produced something that was very important for her brother.  He suffers from Trastorno Afectivo Bipolar (Bipolar Disorder) and Chile is the world’s largest producer of lithium.

Wikimedia Commons SalarDeatacamaFromChaxa.jpg


The term "manic-depressive illness" or psychosis was coined by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in the late nineteenth century. Bipolar disorder is a more recent diagnostic term.


May 09, 2008


Nanking Poster: THINKFilm
On July 2, 1996, the anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s own suicide, Margaux Louise Hemingway, his grand daughter was found dead in her studio apartment in Santa Monica, California at age 41.


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?


Bipolar disorder: divalproex er vs placebo

May 19, 2009

Just before I retired, it has become fashionable to use anticonvulsants as a mood stabiliser. Being a traditionalist, I felt then that the evidence was not clear and I tended to stick with the trusted lithium.

Well my doubts were confirmed:Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:


May 2009 - Volume 48 - Issue 5 - pp 519-532
doi: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e31819c55ec
New Research


A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Divalproex Extended-Release in the Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents
WAGNER, KAREN DINEEN M.D. et al.

Conclusions: The results of the study do not provide support for the use of divalproex ER in the treatment of youths with bipolar I disorder, mixed or manic state. Further controlled trials are required to confirm or refute the findings from this study. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 2009;48(5):519-532.

An earlier Harvard study showed that Lithium reduced suicide risks by as much as 9 fold.



Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912 - 1980)
Taking lithium himself with no ill effect, John Cade then used it to treat ten patients with chronic or recurrent mania, on whom he found it to have a pronounced calming effect. Cade's remarkably successful results were detailed in his paper, 'Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement', published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1949). He subsequently found that lithium was also of some value in assisting depressives. His discovery of the efficacy of a cheap, naturally occurring and widely available element in dealing with manic-depressive disorders provided an alternative to the existing therapies of shock treatment or prolonged hospitalization.

In 1985 the American National Institute of Mental Health estimated that Cade's discovery of the efficacy of lithium in the treatment of manic depression had saved the world at least $US 17.5 billion in medical costs.

And many lives too!

1 comment:

Tony Lama Cowboy Boots said...

Fry suffered a nervous breakdown in 1995 while he was appearing in the West End play Cell Mates and disappeared for several days, coming close to suicide.