The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University was founded on the visionary concept of "comprehensive care," described in a 1963 report to the Governor of New York titled “Education for the health professions; a comprehensive plan for comprehensive care to meet New York’s needs in an age of change.” The report outlined a system of affordable medical education which integrates psychiatry, psychology and the social sciences with the physical and biological sciences.

The vision was realized in the early 1970’s by the first dean of the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University (now Renaissance School of Medicine), Edmund Pellegrino MD, and the first Chairman of Psychiatry, Stanley Yolles MD. When the School of Medicine opened in 1971, the Department of Psychiatry was the first department to be organized within it.

Dr. Yolles came to Stony Brook from the National Institute of Mental Health where he served as its second director from 1964 to 1970. After overseeing the implementation of the Community Mental Health Act which he helped draft, he resigned as Director following a dispute with President Richard Nixon over what he described as the President’s punitive drug policies. 

Dr. Yolles quickly organized a department with a national reputation. He had a broad view of Psychiatry which encompassed the neurosciences, clinical pharmacology, studies of sleep, drugs of abuse, human sexuality and more. He recruited a team of world-class brain researchers that included Harvey Karten MD; prominent clinical researchers like Max Fink, MD, a leading expert on EEG and ECT, and Merrill Mitler PhD, who headed the department’s Sleep Lab; and some of the country’s leading researchers in human sexual behavior including Richard Green, MD, the founding editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Dr. Yolles recruited Harold Pass, PhD as the first Chief of Psychology and the first Clinical Psychologist on the faculty. Dr. Pass devloped the hospital's pain service and the department's psychotherapy training program. 

Under the auspices of the Long Island Research Institute, headed by Dr. Yolles recruited a cadre of promising young scholars, including Arthur Stone, PhD, former Director of the Applied Behavioral Medicine Research Institute, biochemist Nisson Schechter PhD, who conducted breakthrough studies on the regeneration of brain cells and Lawrence Morin, PhD, the director of the department's chronobiology lab. 

The first class of medical students at Stony Brook graduated in 1974. The residency program in Psychiatry was accredited in 1978, one of the first four programs in the School of Medicine. The department played a prominent role in the development of Stony Brook University Hospital. The department opened a 30-bed adult inpatient unit in 1980 and admitted the first patient to the fledgling hospital. Before the hospital was built, the department conducted its clinical training at Hillside Hospital, Nassau County Medical Center and Central Islip Psychiatric Center, and since 1979 at the Northport VA Medical Center.


Dr. Yolles retired from the department in 1981 and was named Professor Emeritus. He was replaced by Fritz Henn MD, PhD, a neuroscientist recruited from the University of Iowa, who served as chair of the department from 1983 to 1994.

In 1983 Dr. Henn recruited Michael Schwartz MD, who served as the department's Director of Residency Training for 17 years, from the National Institute on Aging where he published several of the early studies utilizing PET scanning to study aging, Alzheimer’s disease and Down Syndrome. 

In 1985, Dr. Henn recruited Gabrielle Carlson MD to establish the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She formed a team of research scientists and clinicians to develop one of the country’s premier centers for the evaluation and diagnosis of children and adolescents, and to open a 10-bed inpatient unit for children. In 2003 a member of the division, Richard Mattison MD, was awarded the Sidney Berman Award for the Study and Treatment of Learning Disabilities.

Dr. Henn  brought one of the nation’s top mental health epidemiologists, Evelyn Bromet PhD, to the department in 1986. Three years later, she and her colleagues began enrolling participants in the Suffolk County Mental Health project, a naturalistic study of psychotic disorders which has followed more than 400 participants for 20+ years.

In 1988, Dr. Henn recruited Dmitry Goldgaber, a neuroscientist internationally renowned for his breakthrough research in Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Henn further developed the department’s clinical services, recruiting Laura Fochtmann MD and Andrew Francis MD, PhD from Johns Hopkins. In 1988, the department became the site of the Alzheimer’s Disease Assistance Center of Long Island, one of eight such centers in the state. Dr. Bromet, Dr. Alan Steinberg and Dr. Lory Bright-Long wrote the first grant to the New York State Department of Health. Dr. Steinberg and Dr. Bright-Long headed the program until Dr. Steinberg left. Dr. Bright-Long was the Director until 1994 when Dr. Mark Sedler took over as Medical Director.

In 1990, under the leadership of Dr. Fochtmann, the department opened the state’s first Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP), which serves as the regional triage center for psychiatric emergencies in Suffolk County. 

Dr. Henn left the department in 1993 and moved to Germany to become the Director of the Central Institute of Mental Health and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Heidelberg. In October 2008, he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit. In 2006 he was named Associate Laboratory Director at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He received the Thomas W Salmon Award from the New York Academy of Medicine in 2008.

The department’s third chair, Mark J. Sedler MD, MPH, was named acting chair in 1994 and appointed chair in February 1997. Dr. Sedler had completed his residency at Stony Brook in 1981, and after completing a fellowship in Geriatric Psychiatry at Harvard, returned as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Sedler’s tenure as chairman was characterized by steady growth and improvement. In 1997, he appointed Dr. Michael Schwartz to serve as director of the department’s residency program. When Kendra’s Law, which authorizes mandated outpatient treatment, was passed in 1999, the department entered a contract with Suffolk County to provide expert psychiatric consultation to the courts; and in 2011, under Dr. Sedler’s leadership, the medical center opened a new $7.2 million CPEP facility featuring one of the most advanced designs in the country. 

In November 2011, Professor Emeritus Max Fink, MD, received the Thomas W Salmon Award for his life-long contributions to Psychiatry and Neurology.

In May 2012 Dr. Sedler stepped aside as chair, making way for the appointment of the department’s fourth chair Ramin V. Parsey MD, PhD, in August 2012. Dr. Parsey is also Director of PET Research at Stony Brook Medicine. He was Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and Director of the Brain Imaging Core in the Department of Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Parsey received his medical degree and a PhD in Biophysics from the University of Maryland, completed his residency at Duke University and fellowships at Columbia University. Over the following decade he built the Department and recruited many outstanding researchers, increased the workforce and created a second residency training program at East Long Island Hospital. Under his leadership many programs were successfully launched, including the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center, an Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner residency training program, the Center of Excellence for Alzheimer's Disease (CEAD) and the Autism Spectrum Disorders Program. He also established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.   

Dr. Parsey stepped down as Chair in September 2021. Marc Halterman, MD, PhD, and Chair of Neurology, became interim Chair of the Department in September 2021 and remained in this role until October 2nd2022. Anissa Abi-Dargham, MD, was appointed as the current Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health on October 3d 2022.

Dr. Abi-Dargham was educated in Lebanon and completed a psychiatry residency at the University of Tennessee. Following fellowships at the NIH and Yale University, she served on the faculty at Yale and Columbia University where she was the Director of Clinical and Imaging Research in the Lieber Center for Schizophrenia Research and Director of the Silvio O. Conte Center at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In 2016, Dr. Abi-Dargham joined RSOM where she is currently SUNY Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Vice Chair for Research in Psychiatry, and Associate Dean and Associate Vice President for Clinical and Translational Science. She holds the Lourie Endowed Chair in Psychiatry at Stony Brook. Dr. Abi-Dargham also serves as the Founding Director of the Long Island Network for Clinical and Translational Science (LINCATS), a role that she will continue while serving as Chair of Psychiatry. 

Dr. Abi-Dargham is an internationally recognized neuropsychiatrist who has pioneered the use of combined MRI, SPECT, and PET imaging modalities to unravel the molecular mechanisms and pharmacology of schizophrenia and drug and alcohol addiction. Her research on dopamine dysregulation has utilized novel radiotracers to uncover highly dynamic and region-specific alterations in dopamine release in schizophrenia and identified addiction as a state of hypodopaminergia. This work has dramatically altered our understanding of these disorders and led to ongoing clinical trials of a partial D1 agonist in schizophrenia. Dr. Abi-Dargham has published more than 200 articles, and her laboratory has been continuously funded by the NIH for more than 20 years. Her scientific accomplishments have been recognized by election to the National Academy of Medicine and receipt of the Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research from the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation. She is Past President of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.