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Suffolk support groups seek to alleviate emotional toll of COVID-19

Stony Brook University Hospital is creating a virtual support group for those impacted by COVID-19. Dr. Jenna Palladino, a clinical psychologist at the hospital, explained to Newsday on Wednesday what the support group aims to accomplish.  Credit: Newsday / Tom Ferrara

Organizers of two Suffolk County groups aiming to help people cope with the emotional impact of COVID-19 want residents to know this: They don't need to struggle alone.

The Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness on Thursday is launching a four-week online bereavement support group for Spanish speakers dealing with losing a loved one from the coronavirus.

The Spanish-speaking group will meet weekly for 90 minutes, said Mike Stoltz, chief executive officer of the mental health association, which provides care in Suffolk. It's one of 27 mental health associations in New York.

"If you look at the areas of Long Island that have had a disproportionate impact from COVID, it's included many minority areas," Stoltz said. "That's included many areas that are Spanish-speaking."

Stoltz said the organization already has run virtual bereavement groups for veteran families affected by the virus who often are unable to access their usual networks of support. The average group is six to 10 people, he added.

"Due to the pandemic, people can't grieve with loved ones, they can't go to churches and can't get families together," Stoltz said. "With some Spanish-speaking families, this could include bringing in family members from other countries. These are important traditions, and it's been very difficult for people to grieve properly."

Participation in the group is free, and their outreach work is paid for by grants, Stoltz said.

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Meanwhile, Stony Brook Medicine, Stony Brook University's health, science and medical enterprise, is seeking COVID-19 survivors to join a new virtual support group program designed to provide professional care for those who are struggling.

The support group will focus on those who contracted, and survived COVID-19, said Dr. Jenna Palladino, a licensed clinical psychologist at Stony Brook, where she is also the associate director of outpatient clinical integration at the health system's Commack facility.

Stony Brook is seeking 10 participants in its first group, which will meet once per week for an hour for 12 weeks, she said.

"We are hoping this group can serve as a research pilot about what people's experiences have been and that, in turn, can help us deliver better care in general," Palladino said.

Palladino said much of the experience following COVID-19 for patients has included anxiety about being contagious, being treated differently by friends and family, and "the spectrum of experiences they had while fighting the virus."

She added that other concerns have included the uncertainty about long-term effects of COVID-19, and being self-isolated.

Dr. Adam Gonzalez, the director of behavioral health, said COVID-19 survivors, like people in general, "are feeling more stress and are overwhelmed like they've never been before" because of the pandemic's disruptions.

"Our goal is to provide a telehealth platform for patients to come together to support one another, exchange information, and learn skills to cope with the stress associated with having COVID-19," he said.

The Stony Brook program is billed through insurance.

"I do encourage people to contact us, because stipulations have been made to make [mental health] more accessible," Palladino said.

For more information:

  • Association for Mental Health and Awareness, Spanish-speaking bereavement group. Visit their event site to register. When: Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. for 90 minutes. Cost: Free.
  • Stony Brook Medicine COVID-19 support group. Call 631-632-8657. When: Thursdays at 6 p.m. for one hour. Cost: Billed through insurance.

SOURCE: Newsday research

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