A TRIAL examining lithium in drinking water supplies will aim to reduce suicide rates, according to a team of psychiatrists.

Naturally-occurring levels of the chemical are to be measured in supplies in Scotland and compared with suicide rates in the population it serves.

It follows similar studies in the US and Japan which found that suicide rates are higher in areas where there are low levels of lithium in the drinking water. The chemical is a common treatment for bipolar disorder.

Lithium levels will be measured by postcode and compared with Scottish Health Survey and NHS statistics. The team will also test the impact of adding lithium to water supplies just as fluoride is added to prevent tooth decay.

Professor Allan Young, of London's King's College, said: "We have a considerable evidence that suggests that high levels of the chemical in water could save lives."

Dr Daniel Smith, from Glasgow University, said: "If we can become deficient in calcium and zinc, there is no reason why we can't become deficient in lithium."