School of Health & Human Services

He traveled the country on behalf of the American Red Cross, counseling those affected by hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Irene, and Harvey as well as the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Las Vegas. Today, David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, has needed to adapt his strategies — working from home to help those fighting Covid-19.

Working from his home, David Denino is the disaster mental health co-leader for the American Red Cross in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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.

Jack Gesino, an associate professor of social work at Southern who specializes in elder care, said that social isolation and loneliness can alter a person’s genetic response to disease even in normal times. This represents an even bigger challenge — especially for the elderly — during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, when social distancing is crucial to staying healthy.

“The virus adds an ‘uncertainty’ as to what is happening — will I get it, when will it end and so on,” Gesino said. “From a neurobiological perspective, the brain hates uncertainty and frequently responds with either depression, anxiety or both.”

Jack Gesino

But Gesino said that while these are challenges, there are steps senior citizens can take to reduce the chances of becoming depressed or overly anxious. They can also help people of all ages.

He recommends the following:

  • Setting a goal each day, as this literally calms the brain.
  • Limiting one’s exposure to the news once a day.
  • Taking the opportunity to have 15 minutes of sunshine (the brain perceives this as a reward, in addition to the health benefits of sunshine).
  • Laughter. Watch some funny sitcoms.
  • Novelty. Do something out of your routine. An example could be eating breakfast for dinner.
  • Savoring music. Scientific data shows that music provides a benefit to the brain and its ability to decrease stress.

Gesino said caregivers for the elderly also can face psychological challenges of their own. He said adult children often feel guilty in not being able to see or assist their parents.

“Video chat technology can be helpful, such as FaceTime and Skype,” he said. “Many elders who have the financial means are pretty sophisticated on using technology.

“I hope public officials have a plan in place to help elders who are disadvantaged to maintain regular social contact.”

Gesino said that in many instances, disadvantaged elders are living in public housing or apartments, although in some cases, they are living in their own homes.

 

 

Frank LaDore teaching the Death and Dying class (photo courtesy Cara McDonough, New Haven Independent)

The New Haven Independent ran an article, “SCSU Prof, Students Work Through The Covid Grief” (March 31, 2020), about Frank LaDore, director of Transfer Student Services, who teaches the Death, Dying & Bereavement class at Southern. LaDore, who has worked at the university for 28 years in a variety of departments, has been teaching the course since 2012.

The class, offered by the Department of Public Health, is described on the university’s website as “understanding death in our culture and social and personal mechanisms for responding to death, dying and bereavement.”

While the university remains closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the course is meeting online for the rest of the semester.

 

Sally Sizer, who works as a secretary for the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management at Southern and a professional dog trainer, offers five quick tips on pet care during the coronavirus pandemic. She teaches dog training classes at Metro Pooch in North Branford.

“While pets don’t understand pandemics, they DO understand stress in their human family,” Sizer says. “They do this by being able to smell that their family (or individual person) is stressed. Our pets can smell perspiration and they can sense anxiety. Emotional support dogs are known for being able to do this.”

Sizer also said that pets, especially dogs, are creatures of habit. “Dogs thrive on things being as consistent as possible.” She said that her own dogs look out the door for at least 10 minutes before she arrives home. But when their human family members are home all the time, it can actually upset their sense of consistency.

She recommends the following tips to help ease your pets’ stress levels:

  • Try to keep your pet on as much of a routine as possible. For example, if you have a dog, please continue to walk them at the same time each day.
  • Play with your pet! Whether you have a cat or dog, please make sure you spend some time to play with them. For a cat, maybe toss a catnip ball. For a dog, play the “find it” game with a yummy treat (put the dog in one room, hide the treat in another. Once the treat is hidden, ask your dog to “find it!”)
  • Make sure you feed your pet the EXACT same food for them. Please don’t switch their dog or cat food in this middle of this pandemic. This could cause digestive upsets for them.
  • BREATHE! This may sound silly, but pets understand body language. If you learn to breathe slowly while in the company of your pet, this will help them to calm down as well.
  • Ear Slides — One of the most important things you can do for your pet is to do something called “ear slides.” Many dogs and cats LOVE their ears rubbed; but most people don’t know why! The answer is because you are accessing many of your pets acupressure points that are located in their ears! By gently stroking your pets’ ears you are accessing their acupressure points that include areas in their entire bodies for behaviors like stress, along with other behaviors.

Andrew Toce, ’14, LPC, ADS, works in his own private counseling practice, with a focus on sports psychology. Read our interview with him and learn how he is continuing his work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

SCSU: Can you briefly describe your current employment?

AT: I am the owner and operator of my own private practice named Deep Breaths Counseling, LLC which is based out of South Windsor, Conn. Here I focus my work on sport psychology and co-occurring disorders. I have had the privilege of working with athletes of all ages and levels, from professional to youth athletes pursuing their dreams of playing at the next level.

SCSU: How has your job changed in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 outbreak?

AT: My job has changed drastically in the past few weeks. I normally am open 3 days a week and see all clients face-to-face. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, things have changed from shaking hands to keeping 6 feet from my clients at all times and spraying everything down with disinfectant in between clients.

SCSU: Have you had to move any services or parts of your job online to support social distancing? How has this been?

AT: In the last week, I have had to move my entire practice to an online platform. This has been a challenge and very new. In our field, you need to be very particular as HIPAA rights for clients need to be followed at all times. I had to create special consent forms and documents that could be electronically filled out. I needed to find ways to send secure HIPAA-compliant emails. I also needed to find a platform that was HIPAA-compliant to do video and audio sessions, as everyday software like Facetime, Skype and Zoom do not have the correct level of security to qualify. On top of that, getting insurance companies to cover online services, named telehealth in my field, was a challenge and barrier up until the second week of March. Thankfully, as I write this, most major insurance companies have enacted special circumstances to meet the needs of their customers and the providers that give these services.

SCSU: From your professional perspective, what is the local impact COVID-19, so far?

AT: From my perspective, the impact has been vast and unwavering. Companies are closing, there are more layoffs happening every day, families are struggling, and small businesses are desperate for anything to keep them afloat. It is a reminder to me of how fast everyday life can change and how we take things for granted without even realizing it. People are scared of COVID-19, as am I, but I truly believe in the phrase, “Educate to Regulate.” I started using this phrase when giving talks on substance use to local high schools, but it works in this context as well. We need to educate ourselves on COVID-19 and the facts about it. Only then will we regulate the way we do things and make it possible to flatten the curve. I have the utmost respect for doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians, paramedics, and so many others who don’t have the option to work from home and are daily putting their own well-being on the line to help those struggling from COVID-19 and all other situations.

SCSU: What are your suggestions, personally/professionally, for getting through this pandemic?

AT: I think we are unprepared for the vast amount of ICU beds and ventilators that we will need, and I believe the answer is that companies who supply these need to recognize this is bigger than economics. In order to save lives, we need to come together as a human species and forget about any future profits and focus on the here and now. I think we need to listen to those that are on the front lines, we need to follow the advice given and recognize that if we all think, “This won’t affect me,” then it will affect all of us. Social distancing and self-isolation are the answer. We need to learn from China’s experience and also Italy’s struggles. Their government asked that everyone self-isolate and many didn’t. They now find themselves ill-prepared to handle the vast amount of cases.

SCSU: What is the impact of moving to telehealth for patients and your practice?

AT: My goal is to make this transition as low impact as possible on my clients. We are all scared and the unknown is anxiety-provoking. The last thing I want to do is add to that and create more barriers for them. I did a lot of research and found a system that is user-friendly and compatible with any device. My client simply has to go to a specific URL and enter their name at the time of their session; once that happens I see them in my virtual waiting room and I initiate the session. All copays are collected through an online processing format and the rest is normal.

Social distancing and the closing of typical meeting places are designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus). Public health officials believe these steps can be effective tools in slowing down the impact of the virus.

And while necessary, these changes are often psychologically difficult for people, according to Julie Liefeld, associate professor of marriage and family therapy and director of the SCSU Family Therapy Clinic.

“Even if you identify as mostly introverted, a public health directive to distance yourself from others for safety causes our fight or flight impulses to kick in and try to take over,” Liefeld says.

“This is due, in part, because of the forced choice nature of the directive and because you are facing the unknown. So many of us will notice that we are more restless, anxious, worried, and/or unable to take advantage of the downtime during this phase of managing COVID-19. “

SCSU professor Jule Liefeld
Julie Liefeld

Liefeld offers 10 suggestions to help manage our feelings and our mental health:

  1. Be mindful of what you are going through. Even if you aren’t ill or in a difficult situation, you are experiencing stress. It’s important to acknowledge how you feel. Write them down and talk them out. Every morning write out what is weighing on your mind. Set a timer for 5 minutes and let it rip. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. Close the journal and leave it all right there. Don’t spend time re- reading what you wrote down.
  2. Establish a pattern or routine for your day and evening, and stick to it. Writing down a schedule or a plan for your day has been shown to make you feel grounded and safer. Even if you don’t do all the things on the schedule – writing them down is the calming factor). And keep your sleep schedule healthy.
  3. Make movement a part of your day. Find a way to move or exercise, even if it’s climbing your stairs a few times. Do some stretching, march in place, do some yoga. Investigate guided exercise or movement online. Lots of gyms and places that feature yoga are streaming free classes every day.  Don’t give into any internal cues that say, “why bother” or “I will do that tomorrow.”
  4. Open your windows or go outside. The CDC is recommending getting fresh air while complying with social distancing. Take a walk around your block, yard or patio.  Breathe in and practice mindfully noticing your surroundings.
  5. Minimize or avoid the use of alcohol and/sedatives as a coping mechanism to relax or de-stress. Instead, take a bath, drink tea or a similar non-alcoholic drink. Remember that the restlessness that accompanies worry only lasts for 90 seconds.
  6. Incorporate sound in your environment. That can include music and talking to a friend, partner, or family member by phone or video chat. Change up your hand washing song.
  7. Moderate your exposure to the news and people who are focused on increasing your worry. Once you have your daily information of the general situation and for what your role in the world is, turn it off. For those friends and family members who make you feel MORE anxious, limit your interactions to a polite check in and then move on to more constructive conversations.
  8. Manage your feelings of guilt, fear, blame, anger, and shame by noticing how you feel, and reminding yourself about what you can and can’t control. Focus on what you can control and being good at taking care of those things.
  9. Ask for help if you think you might need it. You can dial 211 to get more support for mental health support, financial support, or instrumental needs such as food or heat.
  10. Allow yourself to adjust to this new mode of being. Acknowledge how you are feeling and reacting to it, and then create a structure that supports healthy function.  We are learning as we go, and you are not alone.

Be well.

 

 

In a recent article in The New London Day, Lee deLisle, a professor in the Department of Recreation, Tourism, & Sport Management, discusses the impact that COVID-19 has had on our favorite leisure activities and how it affects us on a personal level. He comments on the trend of sports programs being postponed/cancelled for safety reasons in light of the pandemic, and the importance of sports and entertainment in society.

Read “Loss of live entertainment leaves seats, people empty.”

Lee deLisle

 

Finding yourself wanting to exercise more during these stressful times? Kristie Rupp, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Movement Sciences, knows all about that. Her research focuses on increasing physical activity engagement, and she is also an avid runner herself. Regarding exercise during times of stress, Rupp says, “We definitely want to encourage people to be physically active while practicing social distancing! Walking or running is a great way to exercise and get outside, while still maintaining a safe distance from others. There are also a host of free workout videos on YouTube and other platforms that you can use to help you stay active indoors for those who have been instructed to do so. Now, more than ever, it is important to engage in regular physical activity to help promote overall health and personal well-being during these challenging times.”

Kristie Rupp

Professor Joan Kreiger is a licensed Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) and the Respiratory Care Program Coordinator in the Health and Human Performance Department at Southern. She was interviewed on WTNH recently about her respiratory therapy work on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Watch the interview, “Wednesday Warrior: Joan Kreiger, Program Director for the Respiratory Care Program at SCSU” (May 6, 2020).

She was also recently interviewed on WTIC News/Talk 1080 Radio about the effects of COVID-19 has on the respiratory system and the types of respiratory therapy that may help patients with the virus.

Listen to the brief interview: https://bit.ly/2U9XmeA

Kreiger has an extensive background in teaching healthcare curriculum at public and private universities, and at major urban not-for-profit health care, education and research enterprises. Learn more about the Respiratory Care Program.

Joan Krieger

Jean Breny, chair of the Department of Public Health, recently delivered the Presidential Address at the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE)’s virtual annual conference.

The title of Breny’s address, “Advancing Health Equity: Taking an Anti-racism Approach to Health Promotion Leadership and Action,” provided an understanding of how public health professionals can work towards health equity in their communities by using an anti-racism framework.