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Dr. Adam Gonzalez

Dr. Adam Gonzalez Photo by John Griffin/SBU

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a rough year for all of us, that’s for sure, but no one has felt the sting of the COVID-19 pandemic more keenly than those who have contracted the virus.

As of Aug. 6, more than 43,000 Suffolk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and many more have faced the virus without an official diagnosis. Its symptoms can vary widely, from mild fatigue and chills to flu-like illnesses or even respiratory distress requiring hospital care.

The virus is unpredictable, and dealing with symptoms along with a quarantine, lengthy recovery and uncertain long-term effects is daunting. It’s only natural that many will experience tough emotions along the way.

Stony Brook Medicine is now offering a virtual support group for past and present COVID-19 patients. The weekly sessions will give patients a space to discuss their experiences and feelings while learning healthy coping mechanisms.

The support group is hosted by the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at the Stony Brook Renaissance School of Medicine. Under the direction of founder Dr. Adam Gonzalez, the center focuses on the integration of mental and physical health for overall wellbeing.

“We wanted to see what we could do to support these members of the community who had COVID-19 and shared that they were feeling anxious, isolated and afraid of transmitting the virus to others,” Gonzalez explained. “Our goal is to provide a telehealth platform for patients to come together and bolster one another, exchange information, and learn skills to cope with stress brought on by their illness.”

Leading the group is Jenna Palladino, a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry. Palladino is hopeful that participants will feel comfortable opening up about their struggles with COVID-19 in the company of others who know what it’s like.

“Research supports the idea that sharing your story helps you to work through the emotions related to it. And talking to others experiencing similar feelings helps to normalize the experience,” Palladino said. “It’s important for people going through COVID-19 to know that they’re not alone.”

The initial group is expected to run for 12 weeks, covering topics like coping with isolation, deep breathing, managing anxiety, muscle relaxation and mindfulness, to name a few.

Palladino is also leaving plenty of room for participants to ask questions and discuss topics that interest them, allowing the group to better meet their specific needs and concerns.

Gonzalez added that the support group will act as a pilot program for researchers seeking to understand the experiences of people living with COVID-19. They’ll collect data at the beginning and end of the program to see how patients are doing, if the support group was beneficial and how it can be improved.

While the initial group is limited to 10 patients, Palladino and her team are prepared to quickly begin additional groups if there is an interest, she said.

The virtual COVID-19 support group will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays via the free Microsoft Teams video conferencing platform. The group is limited to 10 participants at a time. Registration is required to attend by calling 631-632-8657. For more information and resources, visit www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/COVID19support.