For most of human history, mental illness has been largely untreatable. Sufferers lived their lives – if they survived – in and out of asylums, accumulating life’s wreckage around them.
In 1948, all that changed when an Australian doctor and recently returned prisoner of war, working alone in a disused kitchen, set about an experimental treatment for one of the scourges of mankind – manic depression, or bipolar disorder. That doctor was John Cade and in that small kitchen he stirred up a miracle.
John Cade discovered a treatment that has become the gold standard for bipolar disorder – lithium. It has stopped more people from committing suicide than a thousand help lines.
Lithium is the penicillin story of mental health – the first effective medication discovered for the treatment of a mental illness – and it is, without doubt, Australia’s greatest mental health story.
Associate Professor Hans Pols is an expert in the history, sociology, and anthropology of medicine. He currently focuses on the history of colonial and postcolonial medicine in Southeast Asia. He has also published on the history of the American mental hygiene movement, the treatment of war neurosis in the armed forces of during World War II, and the history of colonial psychiatry. Hans has been investigating the history of medicine in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia for several years as part of his research within the School of History and Philosophy of Science. He has a special interest in the history of psychiatry that dates back to his childhood.
Greg de Moore is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry based at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital. Greg works as a clinician, teacher and researcher in the fields of neuropsychiatry, general hospital psychiatry, deliberate self-harm and the history of medicine. As a recent Director of Psychiatry Training he oversaw the psychiatric education of young doctors as they worked towards becoming psychiatrists. He is affiliated with Western Sydney University and the University of Sydney.