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Lithium Mania

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Aerial colour photograph of a large salt flat in Bolivia. The landscape is made up of a flat white expanse stretching away into the far distance where a small ridge of wavy mountains gives way to a cloudless blue sky. At the bottom of the image the white expanse meets a margin with grown earth. The surface of both the white and brown landscape are scarred with many sinewy vehicle tracks, snaking out and crisscrossing the ground all the way to the horizon.
Salar de Uyuni, amid the Andes, is the world's largest salt flat, claimed to contain the most extensive lithium reserves on the planet. Bolivia. 2018. © Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE.

A few months after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Laura Grace Simpkins began to take lithium. It was the “gold standard” treatment and she was spellbound – at first. But she soon began to have doubts about this mysterious drug, one that stabilised her mood but stole her pizzazz. Little is known about how lithium works, and almost no consideration is given to the social and environmental costs of producing it. Should she really prioritise herself over everything and everyone else? Here she investigates her relationship with her medication and her mental health, asking if lithium is the bitter pill she has to swallow.