One of my ex-juniors, now retired, called to ask if I have read about another young doctor's suicide. How very sad! If we look back there has been many such suicides and it is sadder that many are very talented people. Iris Chang & Nanking: Denial!
Dr. Baldessarini of Harvard:
“Lithium is far from being an ideal medicine, but it’s the best agent we have for reducing the risk of suicide in bipolar disorder,” Dr. Baldessarini says, “and it is our best-established mood-stabilizing treatment.” If patients find they can’t tolerate lithium, the safest option is to reduce the dose as gradually as possible, to give the brain time to adjust. The approach could be lifesaving.
"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. After all it is less than one eighth the price of a preferred mood stabilizer that has a serious side effect: liver failure.
Perhaps it is in the British History:
With the exception of ECT, lithium is the single most effective treatment in psychiatry. Its side effects are easily manageable, and many patients stay on low-dose lithium for decades. Its benefits, in terms of the relief of mania and the prophylaxis of depression, are incalculable. In assessing the history of lithium, therefore, two questions present themselves:
First, why a small group from the Maudsley Hospital in the 1960s could, in an almost malicious manner, have sown scholarly confusion about the true effectiveness of lithium. Aubrey Lewis, professor of psychiatry and head of the Maudsley, considered lithium treatment “dangerous nonsense” (47). Lewis’s colleague at the Maudsley, Michael Shepherd, one of the pioneers of British psychopharmacology, agreed that lithium was a dubious choice. In his 1968 monograph, Clinical Psychopharmacology, Shepherd said that lithium was toxic in mania and that claims of efficacy for it in preventing depression rested on “dubious scientific methodology” (48). Shepherd also scorned “prophylactic lithium” in an article with Barry Blackwell (49). Moreover, Shepherd was publicly contemptuous of Schou. He told interviewer David Healy that Schou had put his own brother on it, and that Schou was such a “believer” in lithium that he seemed to think “really there ought to be a national policy in which everybody could get lithium” (50, see p. 249). [In a separate interview with Healy, Schou confirmed that the family member was his brother (36, see p. 267)]. Lewis and Shepherd were major figures in the field, and their poorly grounded objections to lithium doubtless steered many practitioners away from a beneficial agent. [Years later, when questioned about this mad campaign against lithium, Shepherd said that English psychiatry did not distinguish between psychogenic and endogenous depression, and if lithium were accepted, “all doctors in England would use it against all types of depression, with the result that many patients not in need of it would only suffer damage from it—therefore lithium must be ravaged with fire and sword” (51)].
Atacama where Lithium is extracted © Am Ang Zhang 2015
Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?
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 $
I have just received a query from a reader of this blog about Lithium, and I thought it worth me reiterating my views here. It is no secret that I am a traditionalist who believes that lithium is the drug of choice for Bipolar disorders.