2004, 52 Minutes
When Australian doctor John Cade discovered a drug treatment for bi-polar disorder, he revolutionised the way we treat mental illness.
In a disused hospital pantry in the 1940s, an Australian doctor discovered an astonishing treatment for bi-polar disorder (or manic-depression, as it was then known). It would change the way we think about mental illness and mark the beginning of psychopharmacology - using drugs to manage psychiatric conditions.
A psychiatrist and ex-prisoner of war in Changi, Dr John Cade was convinced by his wartime experiences that nutrition and body chemistry were determining factors in mental health. In those days, there were no anti-depressants or anti-psychotics; Freudian psychoanalysis, electric shock and lobotomy were the dominant approaches and patients were often locked up in asylums. Yet Cade went looking for chemical alternatives. After a series of experiments, he honed in on a simple salt - lithium.
However, drug companies remained uninterested because lithium was a naturally occurring element that could not be exploited commercially. Determining the correct dosage for an individual was also extremely difficult. It would take 20 years of struggle before lithium treatment was finally accepted, but the scientists and psychiatrists who followed Cade's lead persevered. Their work has meant a chance at stability for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and lithium remains the benchmark for bi-polar treatment today.
A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Omar Khayam Films. Developed with the assistance of Film Victoria. Produced in association with SBS Independent. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
Director: Dennis K Smith
Running Time: 52 Minutes
Classification: M. Consumer advice: Adult themes.