USF students compile self-help manual to help VA during COVID-19

May 4, 2020

USF COVID-19 Update

Dr. Carl Jylland-Halverson’s students seized a chance to help during a crisis with urgency and excellence.

Jylland-Halverson, Clinical Mental Health Counseling program director at the University of Saint Francis, received a call from USF alumnus Dominic Letizia (BA ’05, MS ’07).

Letizia, Assistant Chief of Mental Health at VA Northern Indiana Healthcare Systems, needed a centralized packet on self-care to ease the stress for VA clinicians dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Their patients often have other ailments, both physical and mental. It’s a difficult job that taxes healthcare providers.

“I thought to myself, I bet Dr. Carl has some good resources,” Letizia said. “He reached back out to me the same day and said, ‘Let me and the students put something together for you.’ They really knocked it out of the park.”

Jylland-Halverson’s students in his Clinical Mental Health Counseling course “Intro to Crisis, Trauma and Disaster Counseling” dove into the assignment. The students – Kristen Alexander, Priscilla Baltazard, Grace Berg, Brooke Corley, Adam DeVille and Rease Minniear – produced a 35-page manual entitled “Put Your Own Mask On First!: Self-Care Strategies for Frontline Helpers.”

“I was stunned with how well the students did in compiling information and step-by-step instructions,” Letizia said. “They explained how to follow through and complete the various exercises. It was a huge help.”

Jylland-Halverson emphasizes the students completed the manual using existing material. The challenge was to compile various aspects of the manual in a quick, orderly, user-friendly fashion. The manual has six chapters: Relaxation Exercises, Mindfulness Exercises, Movement and Mental Health, Breathing Exercises, From Critical Incident Defusing to Resiliency Training and Psychological First Aid. Jylland-Halverson wrote the Introduction and Summary. Jylland-Halverson’s daughter, USF alumna Kerri Pulley (BA ’11, MS ’15), a licensed mental health counselor, contributed the illustrations for the manual.

Letizia has been able to add the manual to a SharePoint site he and several other providers at the VA have developed for staff to deal with COVID-19-related issues.

“At a time like this, there’s no sense reinventing the wheel,” Letizia said. “We know these techniques work. The Saint Francis students compiled this information that gives us step-by-step instructions and it was an imperative piece for providers. It’s chock-full of brief interventions providers can do on their own, in the office, in their car, to reduce stress.”

Jylland-Halverson has worked with disaster mental health in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, wildfires, tornados and floods. Letizia studied under Jylland-Halverson while earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at USF.

“The students were very excited to take part in a project that went directly to help in this current situation,” Jylland-Halverson said. “They worked very quickly to put this together and they did an excellent job.”