ST. JOSEPH — There’s still help out there.

That’s what counselors and other mental health professionals want people to know during all of the closures and social distancing happening right now due to the coronavirus emergency.

“We anticipated this and went to online counseling last week,” said Anne Carpenter, a licensed psychologist at Trilogy Counseling in St. Joseph. “I know that every other practice in town is transitioning or has transitioned. So anywhere they seek help they can get online services.”

Carpenter said it’s similar to having an in-person counseling session.

The client logs into a secure website that is compliant with health privacy laws, and waits in the virtual waiting room.

“Then I invite them into my office and we video chat,” she said. “I prefer seeing people in person, but this is the safe route to take. It’s not ideal, but it definitely doesn’t compromise quality of care.”

Carpenter said even though she’s working from her home, with her kids and cat around, she keeps the session private in her home office, just like a normal session.

Staff at Van Buren Community Mental Health and the Berrien Mental Health Authority are also following suit.

Debra Hess, chief executive officer of Van Buren Community Mental Health, said its staff is moving all services that it can to phone, telehealth, and only providing limited face-to-face contact.

“We are also assisting our open customers in getting their basic needs met by doing things like dropping off food and medicines,” she said.

The Berrien Mental Health Authority, which runs Riverwood Center in Benton Harbor and Niles, has a list on its website, www.riverwoodcenter.org, of its different departments that people can call to fulfill their appointments.

Coping during a crisis

Carpenter said people with pre-existing mental health conditions may find a pandemic as extra stressing, but it could also make people in general feel anxious or sad.

“It does fall back on standard self care,” she said. “If you’re stuck at home, make sure you’re eating well, get some exercise, good sleep and stay connected to your social support systems. Social distancing doesn’t mean we cease connection with people. There’s still texting, phone calls and social media. We should stay involved while we feel isolated in our homes.”

She said when the weather is nice, get outside for a walk or do other self-care activities, and have kids work on projects.

“Take yourself away from what is happening. Don’t spend all day watching the news,” she said.

Hess said there are many free online resources for those seeking comfort or help right now, including guides on how to talk to your kids about what is going on.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has complied a list of articles, videos, as well as links to free coronavirus anxiety virtual support groups.

The Child Mind Institute has an article and video about talking to kids and NPR has published an informative comic, along with a three minute audio clip, for kids.

Carpenter suggested a few things to look for in children, and adults, that might indicate they need some counseling or support during all of this.

“If they’re experiencing more crying or irritation, difficulty sleeping or excessive worry,” she said. “It’s hard to say what excessive worry is in a time like this, but it would be elevated levels of anxiety, anything you may notice that seems beyond what people around you are experiencing.”

The Centers for Disease Control has a Disaster Distress hotline, 1-800-985-5990, that Carpenter said she would direct people to if they are in need of help.

“But of course call 911 if you feel like you’re a danger to yourself,” she said. “We need to spread the word and take care of everyone in our community.”

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman