David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, trained as a Red Cross crisis responder following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Today, he’s supporting those fighting coronavirus-19 in Connecticut and Rhode Island, administering what he calls “psychological first aid” to Red Cross volunteers and others impacted by the pandemic. In April, Denino — a licensed professional counselor and director emeritus of counseling services at Southern — talked to the university about that mission.
Tell us a bit about your responsibilities related to Covid-19.
As the corona virus began its trek throughout the United States, my colleague Dr. Wayne Dailey and myself began to prepare for the delivery of mental health services to Red Cross staff and volunteers as well as the clients we serve. Wayne and I are the disaster mental health co-leads for Connecticut and Rhode Island and supervise licensed volunteers in the six territories that cover both states. Between the both of us, we have worked at a large number of relief efforts including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, as well as bombings and mass casualty shootings.
Are people — including Red Cross workers — confronting a different level of stress and anxiety related to Covid-19 in comparison to other disaster situations you’ve worked in?
This event gave us pause as to how to begin and sustain the kind of support we typically provide in person: being there for people who have been gravely impacted by a major and traumatic event.
To that end, we began to plan for delivery of services in two ways: 1) to support the Red Cross staff and volunteers who would be challenged by the delivery of services to people and 2) to provide services to people impacted by the virus. We also need to maintain mental health services for other traumatic issues that arise — house fires, weather-related disasters, etc.
You’ve volunteered at numerous disaster sites. What makes this situation unique?
This event is different. It doesn’t have bookends
.* Can’t see it, smell it, or touch it.
* Uncertain beginning and end.
* Doesn’t want to go away.
* After it ends, it might come back.
It also has created a level of anxiety that people have never experienced, which then begins to turn to fear.
How are you helping others address this fear?
As most medical providers are doing now, our mental health mission turned toward providing services by way of telehealth and the use of web-based means for individual or group meetings.
We developed long and short webinars to cover important topics for our fellow Red Cross staff and volunteers, including these:
How is Pandemic Different from Other Disasters?
Coping and Self Care When Staff are Stricken by Covid-19
What are our fears? Anxieties? How do we combat them?
Additionally, we have developed an easy talk webinar for all Red Crossers that will look at coping and self-care during stressful times. Anyone connected to Red Cross can join and have that live chat about how they are doing.
For people who have been impacted by any type of disaster (home fires, large traumatic events, weather related) we will continue to do what we have always done: provide immediate mental health services (psychological first aid). The change in providing these services is that the delivery will mostly be via phone or web-based means.
In general, the Red Cross is working around the clock to provide services that they always have — being mindful of the health and safety precautions we all have to undertake at this time.
How has the need for social distancing impacted health care providers?
The delivery of services at this time will encompass all guidelines set forth by national and local governments. For some, it’s a new world and my thoughts are that for a time we will miss that up close and personal contact we all were able to provide. But personal health is what matters most.
Any words of advice to those of us in the general public who are feeling stressed and/or anxious?
We are being daily inundated by the news. So, the good advice you are reading or hearing about is all applicable: limit the amount of news you watch, chose a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise, find some fun stuff to do, etc.
Here is a concept I developed and have taught across the country over the past decade. Called “Lend A Hand,” it helps us understand how we might assist others who have or are developing mental health issues that impact their lives — especially anxiety and depression. I adapted the letters from the title for people to use as a daily reminder.
LEND A HAND
Live each day with a deep breath.
Extend your voice and help to those in need and struggling.
Normalize what you can, stay with what you do have control of.
Develop a small list of what you can do each day to feel better.
Acknowledge to yourself: this too shall pass.
Hopefulness is contagious, help to spread it.
Accomplish what you can each day, you cannot control everything.
Navigate your new normal with others to help calm the storm.
Deepen your resolve to be well.
After a 37-year career at Southern, David Denino retired as director emeritus of counseling services in 2009. In addition to his work with the Red Cross, he continues to teach in the clinical mental health program at Southern. In 2007, he received the J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching, one of Southern’s top faculty honors.