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December 2001

Heinz E. Lehmann, MD (1911-2000)

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(12):1178. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.58.12.1178

Heinz Lehmann's long and productive career brought him into contact with generations of researchers in the United States, Canada, and the world. Beloved and admired, a true clinical researcher, with compassion for the patients he cared for and a creative curiosity and imagination, he was always turning an idea on its end and side to look where others had not seen. Courage and honesty defined his career, and his trust in himself never wavered. In turn, his clinical patients or those participating in his research trusted him completely.

Heinz E. Lehmann, MD

Heinz E. Lehmann, MD

Born in Berlin, in 1911, Lehmann studied at the University of Freiburg and the University of Berlin, from which he graduated in medicine in 1935. He emigrated to Canada in 1937 and assumed clinical duties at the Verdun Protestant Hospital (now Douglas Hospital) in Montreal. During the war, Lehmann had up to 600 patients to care for only 1 registered nurse and a staff of untrained personnel. "In order to keep up my morale," Lehmann stated, "I had to do some research. . . . In those days it was all trial and error. . . . I did all sorts of things to see if I could make a difference."1 His early clinical trials were planned and thoughtful but derived in the context of the times: large doses of caffeine, large doses of ammonium chloride (to change metabolism), production of skin blisters (to alter immunological systems), use of nitrous oxide (for depression), induction of leukocytosis and fever, use of continuous sleep therapy, and many more, all accompanied by meticulous observation and documentation.

An avid reader, he searched for new treatment ideas, particularly for severely disturbed patients. He liked to tell, with his characteristic twinkle, that it was while reading in the bathtub on a Sunday that he came across a reprint written in French by Delay and Deniker, describing a new drug named chlorpromazine. On obtaining the compound, he and Hanrahan published in 19542 the first systematic study in North America of its use for psychotic patients; he coined the term "antipsychotic," as well as "extrapyramidal," for the drug's parkinsonian side effects. Shortly thereafter, he read a German paper on the use of imipramine, obtained the compound, and carried out the first study of tricyclic antidepressants in North America. Lehmann's work became widely known, his central role in psychopharmacological research became well established, and in 1957 he received the Albert Lasker Award.

The founding president of the Quebec Psychopharmacological Research Association, he served as president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, president of the Collegium Internationale Neuro-Psychopharmacologicum, and chairman of the McGill Department of Psychiatry. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1998 was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Throughout a career increasingly enriched by achievement and acclaim, Lehmann remained true to himself: humble; respectful; and interested in new, different, even radical, points of view.

The last 17 years of his life, he maintained clinical and teaching activities at Douglas Hospital and McGill and served as Deputy Commissioner for Research for the New York State Office of Mental Health, commuting to Albany 2 days a week for an annual salary of $1. I had the good fortune to work closely with Lehmann for 15 of those years. He was not interested in extra pay, chains of command, or organizational charts, but he was a tireless and passionate advocate for the most severely ill patients in our care and for continued support for research. A very private person, he could not disguise his devotion to his family and to his colleagues. He approached even his leisure time with the scientific method so that his hobbies included astronomical navigation and the classification of gemstones ("by non-invasive procedures such as refractometry, polarization, spectroscopy, and specific gravity"3).

Early in his career, Lehmann said,

I do not believe in the myths that there is no future for an ambitious psychiatrist in a mental hospital and that one deteriorates into stagnation if he stays more than five years in the same place. I never had a private practice, feeling that I could not afford the time and effort this would require if I wanted to do what I liked to do, which was to stay close to my patients for many hours every day and spend all other available time reading, thinking, writing and enjoying life with my family. . . . "3

This selfless devotion to others truly defined the man. Late in his career, he exemplified his interest in "successful cerebral aging," emphasizing "changing negative attitudes of the elderly towards themselves, protection against the neurotoxicity of chronic useless stress, and finally recognizing true human values."4 Lehmann was a genuine pioneer; his life and legacy remain an inspiration to us all.

Healy  D The Psychopharmacologists.  London, England Chapman & Hall1996;
Lehmann  HEHanrahan  GE Chlorpromazine, new inhibiting agent for psychomotor excitement and manic states.  Arch Neurol Psychiatry. 1954;71227- 237Google Scholar
Lehmann  HE Reflections on a career in psychiatry.  Can Psychiatr Assoc Bull. 1980;1214- 16Google Scholar
Lehmann  HE Successful cerebral aging: clinical and pharmacological approaches to the aging brain.  J Psychiatr Pract. 2000;633- 38Google ScholarCrossref