Riveredge Hospital CEO Carey Carlock is aware of just how much a pandemic like the one we’re going through can affect a person’s mental health.

“It’s a time of uncertainty and anxiety,” said Carlock in an interview with the Review. “Even people who are normally OK can really struggle at a time like this. When you have folks with psychiatric conditions, there can be an exacerbation of those underlying conditions.”

It doesn’t help, said Carlock, that there is almost incessant exposure to media, to reports of deaths and increasing numbers of positive tests. All that just raises anxiety and feelings of despair.

“It’s important to validate people’s experiences,” said Carlock. “We are more isolated, anxious and depressed than normal.”

But she stressed that she’s seen “a lot of generosity” in the mental healthcare and social services industries, which have nimbly transitioned to telehealth and virtual support. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for example, offer ways to get support and help online. And mental health facilities and hospitals, including Riveredge, 8311 Roosevelt Rd., Forest Park, have figured out ways to provide services to patients from a distance as well.

Riveredge is fully operational for its inpatients but has had to find creative ways to keep outpatients safe from COVID-19 while attending to their needs for compassionate and necessary therapy.

They’re running their intensive outpatient program, which is three-hours long, online. Right now, the program has eight young people in it, and it’s going really well, said Carlock. So well, in fact, that it’s made Riveredge think about ways to change services permanently.

“This has forced us to be creative. I think there will be a shift in how we offer care in the future,” said Carlock. “We’re using new ways to offer services to people at distances.” She spoke of the ability to provide counseling to patients who live far away from Riveredge and how this crisis has opened the door to better ways to do things.

It’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, something Carlock talked about a lot. She said it’s important to focus on mindfulness and gratitude, to find the good things that can come out of times of crisis.

“It’s normal to be anxious,” said Carlock. “But it’s not necessary to panic.”

Instead, she said we need to take care of our brains. “Limit exposure to the media. Read a book. Keep your brain, with intention, focused on something that’s not fear-inducing.”

It takes practice, said Carlock. But now is a good time to work on mindfulness, on finding those silver linings. She tells people, including her own staff, that finding gratitude can be helpful.

“I want to make sure you take some time to reflect on the positive aspects of your life,” wrote Carlock to her employees in a memo in early April. “For example, take a look around you. What are the things in your life for which you are grateful? Take the time each day to think about at least five things that you are thankful for, which will serve as a powerful reminder of how many things are going well in your life.”

She also stressed that self-care and stress management techniques are essential. These include getting enough sleep, eating well, being physically active, and staying connected with loved ones, even if it can’t be done in person.

If people have a personal faith, staying connected to that aspect of their lives is important. Meditation, relaxation breathing, or other stress management techniques can reduce anxiety as well.

Ultimately, we need to be prepared for change, wrote Carlock in her letter. “But avoid panic. In times of uncertainty, the most important thing is to focus on what is in one’s control. Take reasonable measures to stay informed, follow hygienic practices, and prepare for any potential changes while maintaining a healthy perspective.”

Carlock also stressed that for people experiencing unmanageable levels of anxiety or depression, help is out there.

“Reach out,” said Carlock. “You may be physically isolated, but you are not alone.” She noted that most social services agencies are still operating. “We are all in this together.”

Riveredge can be reached at 708-771-7000 or online at riveredgehospital.com.

According to the website, Riveredge is “the largest free-standing psychiatric hospital in the state of Illinois and offers specialized inpatient and outpatient behavioral healthcare to children, adolescents, young adults and adults.”