Mental illnesses were a big mystery for long, however, ever since the birth of contemporary psychopharmacology in the 1950s, there has been a rapid advancement in scientific research that has yielded discoveries that gave a fresh direction to psychiatry and changed the lives of millions suffering from mental issues. The development of the following drugs for psychiatric use is universally regarded as among the top achievements in medical history:
Even though lithium salts were a popular method of assuaging psychological distress in Roman times, it was only as recent as 1948 that it was recognized as a viable method of treating bipolar disorder. Even though the basic premise for using salts of lithium was incorrect, it was seen that it had a magical effect in soothing manic patients. Even today, seven decades after it was first used, it remains the best psychiatric medication with a success rate over 70% for treating bipolar disorder. It has also proved efficacious in addressing patients with unipolar depressions. Despite the established efficacy of lithium salt treatment, it is generally believed that it is under-prescribed in favor of the new generation of more profitable drugs. Nevertheless, lithium has a special place in medical history as for the first time; it made possible the treatment of mental disease.
The discovery of the world’s first antipsychotic drug, chlorpromazine, followed on the heels of the discovery of lithium. The administration of chlorpromazine, an antihistamine, acted to have a deep psychological impact on patients when administered before surgery, observes Martin Polanco. Soon, psychiatrists started experimenting more with it to treat schizophrenia and it became very popular in Europe as a neuroleptic even though it met with a muted reception in America. This was because, at that time, the nation was more interested in explaining schizophrenia with psycho-social explanations. It was only after the manufacturer of the drug started lobbying with the state governments as being less costly for the government mental health schemes that it found favor with all important psychiatric hospitals. Experts say that it was due to Thorazine, the brand name for the drug, it was possible to treat more mentally ill patients at home than hospitals. Even today, Thorazine is considered as among the most effective psychiatric medications, especially for critical patients.
The discovery of the first-ever tricyclic antidepressant, imipramine, just like lithium and chlorpromazine was accidental. When a scientist employed by Geigy, a large pharma company found nothing after researching a single compound for treating schizophrenia, he was instructed by his employer to choose a fresh compound. However, being more interested in the treatment of depression, he ignored the instructions and administered the compound to patients suffering from depression and met with a miraculous response. The patients were observed to begin getting back hope, drive, and resolve that they had lost. These symptoms, hitherto considered stubborn, responded incredibly well to this miracle drug, and another remarkable breakthrough in medical science was achieved.
With the discovery of imipramine, the psychiatric world finally had at its disposal very effective medications for treating all three of its most important mental disorders; bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.