David G. Daniel: Columnists, Internist Dad Inspired Career in Psychiatry

By Goldreich, Samuel | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

David G. Daniel: Columnists, Internist Dad Inspired Career in Psychiatry


Goldreich, Samuel, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Newspapers drive a lot of people crazy.

But the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. helped inspire a young David Daniel to study psychiatry.

"When I was growing up, they only had two columnists - William F. Buckley and Art Buchwald," he said. "I'd come home and look at these opposite views on the left and the right and try to understand why they wrote what they wrote."

Inspired by his father, an internist, Dr. Daniel chose to study psychiatry in pursuit of the perfect combination of physical science and philosophy.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill cited that same curiosity about how the human mind works Oct. 7 when the patient advocacy group gave Dr. Daniel its eight annual Exemplary Psychiatrist national award.

The group said that he has become a leader in the research of schizophrenia as founder of the Washington Clinical Research Center in Falls Church and has helped improve the public's awareness of mental illness and break down stigmas attached to the disease. The center was acquired last year by Clinical Studies Ltd., a Providence, R.I. company that is a leader in conducting drug investigation trials.

"Dr. Daniel has devoted an extensive amount of time to educating our community about mental illness and the availability of promising treatments," said Edward Brazill, president of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Northern Virginia.

The field of mental illness medicine has been transformed in recent years with the development of new drugs that treat the biological causes of brain disorders. At the same time, patient groups have scored important victories in winning legal protection for health insurance coverage.

Under a law passed in 1996, Congress mandated that insurers who provide mental health coverage to pay for it at an equal level with other illnesses. The National Advisory Mental Health Council's - part of the Department of Health and Human Services - reported in July that the so-called mental health parity law increased total health care costs by less than 1 percent in managed care systems.

But Dr. Daniel said that the increasing economic pressures and the advent of expensive drugs requires doctors to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of treatment. Otherwise, expanded access to care might be gobbled up by higher insurance co-payments, deductibles or doctor-visit limits.

"Society has a responsibility both to provide the most effective, side-effect-free medicine with the best prospect of improving the quality of life on the one hand, and on the other hand, financial responsibility requires that the benefit of a more expensive treatment be proven," said Dr. Daniel, a psychiatry professor at George Washington University and vice president of Medical and Scientific Development for Clinical Studies Ltd.

Question: The NAMI award honors you in part for working to reduce the stigma against people who have mental illness. Can you give me a sense of how things have improved since you came into the profession? Answer: There's been a long evolution in our understanding of the cause of mental illness. It wasn't so long ago that mental illness might have been attributed to witchcraft or willfulness or other non-medical, nonscientific factors. We've come only more recently to understand that mental illness, like other illness, is a complex interplay of one's genetic endowment, one's environment and one's experience . . . The most heartbreaking aspect of stigma is that the people who are suffering from mental illness are often blamed or held inappropriately responsible for their behavior when in fact they are no more responsible than a diabetic would be for their blood sugar.

Q: Do you think this developing awareness played a part in political discussions of insurance coverage of mental illness treatment and particularly with Congress passing the parity in health insurance act for mental illness? …

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