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Episode 5

Lithium

The two extremes of mood, melancholy and mania, were first described by Hippocrates, who associated melancholia with an over abundance of black bile and mania with yellow bile. In the second century AD Arataeus of Cappadocia observed that ‘melancholia is without any doubt the beginning and even part of the disorder called mania’.


It wasn't until the 1970s when the first treatment became available: lithium. The genesis of its discovery belongs to a dermatologist, Dr Perry Baird, a man almost completely forgotten by history. From the beginning of his earliest experiments he spent the majority of his adult life in mental asylums.