COVID, derecho and politics a strain on mental health

This year has been a perfect storm of stressors, challenges and obstacles; and that was before an historic storm hit Marshalltown.

The city still bears the scars of a tornado that ripped through on July 19, 2018. Residents have been navigating a pandemic, cleaning up after the derecho and being bombarded with political tension while still having not fully recovered from that day when an EF-3 tornado struck.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on Aug. 14, connecting COVID-19 and the mitigation activities associated with it to anxiety and depressive disorder symptoms increasing “considerably” between April and June. Some of these effects included substance use and suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts. In late June, about 40 percent of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, according to the report. Eleven percent considered suicide.

With these swirling factors at hand, several area mental health experts have noticed a marked increase in clients and referrals but urge that help and hope is still there.

“There was a sense that air was taken out of our balloons,” said Paul Daniel, mental health counselor with Center Associates. “Hope is not canceled in the lives of people who are willing to take steps to move forward.”

Lori Kirschbaum, a peer support specialist at Mid-Iowa Triumph Recovery Center, said she and many clients had struggled with feelings of depression, anxiety, fear and isolation since the 2018 tornado.

“Even people in my coffee group — some of them are so rattled by the storms and COVID-19 they don’t want to come out of their homes,” Kirschbaum said.

In March, the recovery center shut down in response to the pandemic. During the shut down, executive director Sharon Swope and her staff made regular calls to clients to check in on them, delivered groceries and tried to help combat those feelings of isolation.

The center has more than 200 members and is visited by 10-20 people per day, though those numbers have skewed lower since the onset of the pandemic. It is one of the few member-run centers of its kind in the state.

For the purpose of anonymity, clients of Mid-Iowa Triumph Recovery Center will have their last names omitted from this article.

“It helped me,” said Susan, a client at the recovery center. “I stayed at home a lot. I have an aunt that passed away from [COVID-19.] Nobody’s gotten it here yet. They are taking precautions. That’s the main thing I was concerned about.”

To enter the recovery center, located at 204 E. Linn St., guests are required to wear a mask, check and record their temperature and utilize the sanitizing station in the entryway.


Swope said many clients have underlying health conditions that make the coronavirus a cause for more concern.

“The worst part is having to deal with a lot of people who are stuck at home and all they have is the TV,” she said. “And all it is people saying horrible things about each other.”

“I change the channel every time a political commercial comes on,” said Ted, a board member at the recovery center.

Ryan Keller, a mental health therapist with Youth Shelter Services in Marshalltown, suggests limiting intake of information, particularly in the political climate. That move can be a positive self care choice.

“As a child, if your parent is watching the news let’s say, and all they’re seeing is negative — that has a huge impact and creates even more uncertainty for that child and even adults,” he said.

David Hicks, director of YSS Marshalltown, said recognizing personal limits can help limit the effects of over-stimulation and information overload.

“My daughter, she felt that she needed to just take a week off of Facebook to kind of purge herself of just that,” he said. “Her attitude was better. It’s just trying to recognize your hot spots as well.”

The consensus among sources interviewed for this story was that symptoms or signs of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues are not always obvious. Therefore there is not a universal indicator as to when someone may need assistance.

“I don’t know that you always know it’s the right time,” Keller said. “I think we should be reaching out. I talk to my parents more now than I have. It comes down to not trying to find a sign or symptom. Just reach out and encourage somebody.”


• CICS 24-hour crisis line and mobile response: 844-258-8858

• Mid-Iowa Triumph Recovery Center: 641-750-7657 or mitrc5015864@gmail.com

• Center Associates: 641-752-1585


Contact Joe Fisher at 641-753-6611 or jfisher@timesrepublican.com


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