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Sioux City clinical social worker offers strategies to cope with COVID-19 pandemic
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Sioux City clinical social worker offers strategies to cope with COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19 mental health

Robin Capers, a clinical social worker who owns Family Wellness Associates, is shown in her office at the Sioux City mental health counseling practice. Capers has noted an uptick in patients seeking services since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

SIOUX CITY -- Robin Capers, a licensed clinical social worker who owns Family Wellness Associates in Sioux City, said the changes in routine, financial unease and fear of the unknown brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic have left many Siouxlanders feeling helpless and anxious.

"This is an unusual situation. This isn't something that we have prepared for," said Capers, who has noted an uptick in patients seeking therapeutic services from her practice amid the pandemic. "Isolation from the community and even family leads to a lot of anticipation. Without that structure and purpose, we're seeing a lot more emotional breakdowns." 

Capers said many Siouxlanders were already facing mental health challenges, including depression, trauma and addiction, before the novel coronavirus began to spread in the tri-state area. She said the pandemic is particularly taking its toll on the mental health of children, the elderly and people in recovery. 

"When the economy is struggling and there's financial hardship, it creates challenging home lives," she said. "There's an increase in crime, drug use and alcoholism, and that leads to more cases of domestic violence and child abuse."

Gaps in mental health services, coupled with social isolation and distancing measures, Capers said, are perpetuating the problem. She said it's important to reach out to a licensed mental health professional early on when signs of depression, which can differ from person to person, first surface. She said an individual experiencing depression may feel sad, irritable and angry, or be more temperamental than usual.

While it's normal to have such feelings from time to time, Capers said you definitely need to seek help if those feelings begin to affect your daily life.

"Some of this can be displayed as trouble concentrating on typical tasks, changes in your appetite, body aches and pains, difficulty sleeping and just even struggling to do basic routine chores," she said.

COVID-19 mental health

Robin Capers, a clinical social worker who owns Family Wellness Associates in Sioux City, is shown at the door to a tele-conferencing room that clients who don't have computers or internet connectivity can use to have video meetings with counselors who work from home.

At Family Wellness Associates, 1115 Fifth St., mental health professionals are offering telehealth services as much as possible, but Capers said in-office appointments are still being held in a specially designated room with a therapist, who may participate remotely. 

"We've taken a lot of precautions for those people who do need to come in. They usually will come in if they don't have access to the internet," she said. "I still see a lot of little kids in the office. We've staggered appointments for everybody's safety."

Helping children express feelings

With no school or daycare, Capers said children are lacking structure and feeling isolated from their friends and extended family members, including grandparents in some cases.

"They no longer have their sports activities. They're not attending church or Sunday school. Then, on top of this, the parents may be going through their own issues because of financial stuff and staying at home," she said. "Because of all these changes, you're going to see children become easily irritable and show aggression."

Since immediate family members are all together all the time, Capers said there could be some tension in the household. Children might exhibit some jealousy over their parents' relationships with their siblings.

"They can be withdrawn or closed off," she said. "Sometimes, the younger kids will want to come back to sleep with their parents in their bed. They might be crying and you're not exactly sure why. These are just signs that they're trying to communicate and express themselves, because they don't have the ability to communicate verbally."

Even school-age children, Capers said, struggle to express complex feelings.

"When kids are struggling to communicate, it's a really good time to get them into therapy, but if that's not an option for people, there are some things they can do in the home to help," she said. 

Capers said parents need to spend one-on-one time with their children, engaging them in conversation and play. If the children are old enough to attend school, Capers said you can talk to them about COVID-19. In fact, Family Wellness Associates offers informational booklets on its website that caregivers can use to help children understand what's going on. 

"They really know less than we do, so they're just feeding off of our emotions," Capers said. "It's that fear of the unknown that fuels a lot of this. If we teach them and education them on what's going on, that's going to help them open up those pathways of communication."

Coping with stress

At Family Wellness Associates, Capers said clients are encouraged to take care of their physical health, as well as their mental health.

"To be able to do that, get enough sleep and participate in regular physical activity -- that can be yard work, a bike ride or just even sitting outside reading a book and getting some of that sunshine in," she explained.

Capers encourages healthy eating and sitting down for a meal with your family. She also said screen time should be limited, especially among children. 

"Lots of times we're connecting with social media. It's good to have those connections to stay afloat, but there's also a lot of misleading information out there," she said. "Relax and recharge, and focus on positive thoughts."

Capers suggests setting aside some devotional time or journaling. She said establishing family priorities and adhering to a schedule are key in uncertain times, but she said children will also need some diversity. She said you can do this by changing up crafts, movies, outdoor activities and engaging in conversation. 

"Take them for walks to kind of change up what you're doing so it doesn't become so monotonous" she said.  

Capers said maintaining a connection with family members living outside of your household is also important. 

"Connect with other people through technology. Stay connected to your siblings and your parents and grandparents through technology at this time," she said. 

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