Local health experts help faith leaders battle drug addiction, mental illness in church

Horizon Behavioral Health creates Faith Summit

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Rhonda Turner is the assistant to her pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Stanton.

They have a small and older congregation and are seeing the impacts of meth and opioid abuse spill into their pews.

“Maybe either dealing with family members whether it’s their children or grandchildren. Whether it be mental illness or substance abuse,” Turner said.

Turner and these other faith leaders are taking part in a new monthly faith summit program put on by Horizon Behavioral Health.

They're learning about developing trust, stereotypes and stigmas.

Turner plays a dual role because she also works with people who have substance and mental issues at Horizon.

“Whether it’s our church or the community they look to pastors as the ones who know everything. There are some issues that are here that we’re plagued with today that we may not have all the answers for,” Turner said.

Jesse Winn, a Horizon psychologist, said collaborating with faith leaders will help reach the people who may never come into their office.

“If you see modeled your pastor or faith leader talking about difficult issues from the pulpit or just in the position of the person of the faith leader. You’re going to see other people say, ‘You know what it’s OK to talk about that,’” Winn said.

Monday’s summit is the fourth pastors have been to. The more roundtable conversations they have, the more health experts said they’re learning faith leader’s mental health’s are impacted too.

"It's been helping me to examine myself and myself care, how I'm caring for myself, and making sure my cup is not empty because you can't poor from an empty cup,” Turner said.

Horizon plans on holding a bigger faith summit event in the fall and plans to invite hundreds of faith leaders in the region.