Russell Loeber, MD, PhD, is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Director of Mental Health Services at Saratoga Hospital. He oversees the hospital’s inpatient Mental Health Unit, which provides treatment for patients who are voluntarily or involuntarily hospitalized with mental health conditions and also provides consult-liaison psychiatry. Dr. Loeber is one of the clinicians who provides care for COVID-19 inpatients with mental health needs as well as those suffering from depression or anxiety due to these unsettling times.
Dr. Loeber graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine with an MD and a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience. His residency took place at Boston University Medical Center. A native of the Capital Region, Dr. Loeber and his wife returned to the area to raise their family.
Q. Why did you choose a career in medicine and specialize in mental health?
A. At first, I wanted to study the human mind and conduct research to understand how the brain worked, so I enrolled in a combined MD and PhD program. My undergraduate work was in physics and astronomy, and the combination of those varied studies with psychiatry made for several years of fascinating research in Boston.
But once my wife and I started our family, we realized Boston was not the place for us to raise our children. I grew up in Scotia, so, several years ago, I left academia to come home, where we have two sets of grandparents, to focus on our young family and a new career in clinical psychiatry.
It was a great decision. We love the area, and, as a clinician, I have been able to apply everything I’ve learned to help individuals who are really struggling. I find my work here very rewarding.
Q. What is the biggest change you have seen over the years in your specialty?
A. In psychiatry, the biggest changes have been in drug development. There are many more medications to choose from, and, in general, they have less side effects, especially with antipsychotics. This has given us better opportunities to find the drug that best works for each individual patient.
In nearly all cases, the vast majority of people that come to inpatient mental health will benefit from a medication. We also provide talk therapy here, and we have skilled social workers for both our individual and group therapy programs. The combination of compassionate care, clinical therapy, and better medications have made a tremendous difference in the recovery and quality of life of mental health patients today.
Q. What is your main area of expertise within the unit?
A. Usually, psychiatrists define themselves as either adult or child/adolescent psychiatrists. Gaining expertise in the unique needs of a particular age group adds benefit to the various applicable therapies for patients. My focus is in adult psychiatry.
Specifically, I practice inpatient and consult psychiatry. While I treat any mental health need of patients in my unit or in other areas of the hospital, I have particular expertise in treating patients who are in crisis, sometimes agitated, and in need of involuntary treatment. Often, they don’t understand that they have an illness. I reassure them, build trust, and show them that I can help them feel better.
We have various tools to deescalate situations, as well as medications that are effective in calming people, keeping our patients and team safe. We have very strict safety protocols in place that are frequently reviewed, and we have an amazing public safety team that can respond in seconds, if needed.
I am dedicated to this work because it is an area where I can make a significant difference. This is life-changing work, especially for patients who may have felt that everyone had given up on them. We see amazing recoveries here.
Q. What advice would you give to people who are considering mental health services?
A. Saying you need help is a huge step. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. No matter what severity of illness you think you might have, everybody benefits from some kind of mental health treatment.
If you are worried about stigma or being judged, keep in mind that we follow the strictest patient privacy protocols. But beyond that, truthfully, you are not alone. Here in the mental health world, we’ve heard it all. Many people are struggling with the same thing you are. If you feel the least bit in need of help, I encourage you to pick up the phone.
Q. What might patients be surprised to learn about you?
A. So, my wife teases me about this sometimes, but I really enjoy birding. Sometimes people will even send me pictures of birds and ask me to identify them. Given my career, I am always observing, and I find there’s something pretty special about observing nature. It’s peaceful, quiet, and you realize you are part of this whole universe that’s very interesting and often goes by unnoticed. Once you start to look, you see there’s not just birds, but there’s all kinds of life all over the place. It’s really cool.
Saratoga Hospital Medical Group – Mental Health offers an outstanding inpatient team, including board-certified physicians in psychiatry and neurology, employing the most comprehensive diagnostic techniques for patients in crisis coming through the Saratoga Hospital emergency department. Licensed by the New York State Office for Mental Health, our skilled and compassionate team offers expertise in a variety of psychiatric conditions.