Sunday, May 26, 2024


Herbert S. Sacks, 84

Herbert S. Sacks, a clinical professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and an international medical consultant, died Aug. 30 in New Haven. He was 84. Image
Herbert Sacks: maintained private practice in Westport. Contributed photo

Dr. Sacks, who maintained a private practice at 260 Riverside Ave., Westport until his death,  was a longtime leader of professional psychiatric organizations, first in Connecticut, and then nationally. In this capacity, his broad concern was how modern psychiatry is represented in society.

His contributions to the understanding of such issues as patient advocacy and confidentiality have informed social policy. As president of the Connecticut Psychiatric Association, he led a successful campaign to mandate group insurance coverage for outpatient psychiatric treatment, the first such state legislation in the country.

In 1997, as the president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), he spearheaded a national initiative for mental health parity in insurance coverage as part of a policy of universal access to mental health care,.

He testified before a presidential advisory commission, collaborating with national legislators, and making the case against the “industrialization of American medicine” as capitated managed care threatened the survival of individualized psychotherapy by psychiatrists.

As a member on the National Commission on the Confidentiality of Health Records, Sacks was a forceful proponent for the maintenance of confidentiality of medical records, both to protect the integrity of the physician-patient relationship, and to safeguard against discrimination based on public disclosures of treatment.

He strongly supported the “Goldwater Rule” promulgated in the APA’s Principles of Medical Ethics, barring psychiatrists from offering professional opinions regarding anyone they have not personally examined.

This guidance developed after Barry Goldwater was subjected to public statements questioning his mental fitness for office by physicians who had not examined him, prior to the 1964 presidential election.

During the 1960s, Sacks consulted to the U.S. Peace Corps, preparing young volunteers for their service overseas and acclimation upon their return.

An advocate for culturally sensitive health care development, he continued his work as an international health consultant, focusing on the psychological impact of population dislocations caused by natural disasters and water development projects.

He undertook these efforts in association with numerous medical schools, development assistance organizations and the U. S. Agency for International Development. 

Sacks was an early advocate for the integration of traditional healing into structured public health programs, in conjunction with village leaders and traditional healers. He remained active as a founding member of Yale School of Medicine’s Committee on International Health for more than 40 years.

He was enthusiastic about his service on the Downs Fellowship Committee, which awards international student travel grants to Yale medical, nursing and physician assistant students pursuing scientific research and cultural exchange in developing countries.

He was also a consultant to the Yale Five Year B.A. Program, which encouraged undergraduates to take a year away from college to work in developing countries, when such interruptions of college careers were uncommon.

He had recently been elected to a term on the Board of the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine.

Among his publications, he was most enthusiastic about his book, “Hurdles: The Admissions Dilemma in American Higher Education,” (Atheneum 1978).

Sacks was born in New York City in 1926, the son of Rabbi Maxwell and Mrs. Anna Sacks. He grew up in Brooklyn and enlisted as an ensign in the U.S. Navy at 17, serving in the South Pacific.

He was a graduate of Dickinson College, where he later became a member of the Board of Alumni Advisors, and a graduate of Cornell School of Medicine.

He trained in pediatrics and child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, and joined the faculty of the Yale Child Study Center more than 50 years ago.

In 1948, Sacks married Helen Margery Levin. They enjoyed a 63-year marriage.

Helen Sacks, who retired as an assistant clinical professor of social work at the Yale Child Study Center, was always her husband’s chief advisor and critic.

She co-founded and directed a psychiatric clinic for the assessment of serious offenders in New Haven Juvenile Court, and shared many research interests with her husband

Sacks enjoyed private family time on his farm in Southern Vermont, the company of good friends, the glorious music of the Marlboro Music Festival, eclectic Vermont hardware stores, and late nights reading scores of police procedural novels set in his favorite foreign locales, his family said.

He is survived by his wife; four children, Eric and Douglas of New York City, Russell of Albuquerque, N.M, and Kate of New Haven; and seven grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Marlboro Music ( or to the Yale School of Public Health, Downs Fellowship (

A memorial service will be scheduled in the coming months.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *