Liquid Medicine: Controversial call to add lithium to drinking water for mental health

For decades, it’s been the gold-standard treatment for the most distressing of mental health disorders: mania, schizophrenia, major depression.

But now, lithium– the third element of the periodic table and an essential constituent of soil, oceans and every living organism — is being heralded by some experts as the next fluoride: and additive with such therapeutic potential, it should be ingested by millions of Americans every time they pour a glass of drinking water.

It’s provocative prospect that research suggests might reduce rates of suicide, violent crime and hard drug use.

The idea gained widespread traction in 2009, when researchers studying 18 communities in Japan concluded that areas whose water supplies contained higher natural levels of lithium were significantly less vulnerable to suicide.

A subsequent study published this month in the British Journal of Psychiatry, surveying all 99 counties in Austria over five years, replicated the findings and concluded that — conservatively — 4 to 15 percent of the country’s geographic variation in suicides was due to lithium in content in regional water supplies.

“As a matter of empirical science, this connection between water-based lithium and suicide is absolutely becoming widely accepted,” Jacob Appel, a psychiatrist and bioethicist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told The Daily.

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