Saturday, 08.08.2020

Gregory de Moore’s Final Comment
Barry Blackwell: The lithium controversy: A historical autopsy
Collated by Olaf Fjetland

 

            In writing the book, "Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder," we were always mindful of the fact that sensitivities around priority and facts might be near the surface. Nonetheless, taking this into account, we tried to ascertain the historical facts as openly and honestly as possible.  

            When I sat down to write the book I wanted it to be something substantial, something that would record the beginnings of an extraordinary time: when medications, useful medications, were introduced into the field of mental health. The period just before WW2 and the decade after WW2 was my initial window. Lithium, discovered by an Australian for acute mania, was the centrepiece of that window. It is one of the great stories in the history of medicine. As wonderful as it was improbable.

            John Cade was a remarkable man, not because everything he did was right, nor that he was a model scientist. Hardly, but to a writer and historian, that made him all the more valuable. That the crucible for his ideas was a Prisoner-of-War Camp in a tropical jungle, made his story irresistible to me. The chance to tell his story has been immensely fulfilling.

·       I was also fascinated how in the 1960s and 1970s, at times under a thin cover of civility, differences of opinion were fought out in the scientific literature. What do we make of the personal conflicts that stretched from the late 1940s through to the 1970s? Well, we might require a Shakespeare to tell that story. Needless to say, I found human virtue and weakness and temptation in the recorded interviews and archival letters. We could not have expected anything else.

            John Cade died in 1980, prematurely, and we never had the chance to interview him. For surely, he had more to tell.

 

July 27, 2017