Mogens Schou’s My Journey with Lithium, written on the invitation of Johan Schioldann
Paul Grof’s comment
Thank you for reprinting Mogens Schou’s “My Journey.” Although Mogens wrote it a number of years ago, it has gained relevance as, for several reasons, lithium is regaining popularity and interest: a kind of “Lithium Renaissance.”
One issue seems new. Since the publication of Johann Schioldann’s English translation of Lange’s “Periodic Depressions” and of his observations on lithium in those conditions, several people have recently raised a sensible question: Was Mogens Schou and Christian Baastrup’s discovery of the stabilizing effects of lithium an original idea or did Schou merely extend Lange’s work to manic-depressive patients? Because in his report, “My Journey,” Mogens Schou mentions that his father knew about Lange, this question now adds on intensity.
I am convinced that, until late in his life, Mogens did not know that Lange successfully used lithium in the long-term treatment of his “periodic depressions.” When the extraordinary efficacy of lithium was confirmed in manic-depressive illness around 1970, some psychiatrists and historians went back and brought to light many previously unknown historical facts. That, of course, was all the usual wisdom of hindsight.
First of all, during the initial battle for the recognition of lithium’s efficacy, had Mogens known about Lange’s earlier findings, he would have quoted them as support and with great joy. At that time, whenever he could find any indication that lithium was useful, he would immediately quote it.
Secondly, Mogens was unusually meticulous about researching his sources. One of the things that I hugely admired and try to emulate was that any research report, even seemingly utterly insignificant, in Mogens’ mind deserved a prudent consideration and analysis. Initially, I thought that he was perhaps too obsessive. He would carefully analyze even reports that to me seemed irrelevant and banal. However, gradually I learned that his attention to detail and minutia was well justified. This meticulousness was reflected in several ways: for example, he insisted that he pronounce the name of any foreign author in the way it is pronounced in the author’s language.
Finally, for 50 years Mogens and I had close contact, regular correspondence and frequent discussions, and it was crystal-clear that his primary motivation for research was to improve the life of patients. One can see, particularly in his early publications in the 1970s, how comprehensive he was in entirely covering literature about all the various uses of lithium. That the prophylactic work with lithium is recognized as his own had relatively little importance for him, if any. His joy came primarily from the patients reporting how well they became.
I think Lange’s observation about lithium may have had some effect on Mogens’ thinking when it was published during his final years. The last investigation he actually designed was a study of the stabilizing effect of lithium specifically in recurrent depressions.
January 10, 2019