Churches are one of the first places people go to for help when they face suicidal thoughts, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues. As the need for help with these kinds of struggles became more prevalent in Loudoun County in recent years, Pastor Doug Wall wanted to make sure his church, Leesburg Community Church, knew how to respond.
What started as an effort to train church employees to help individuals in need has since grown into a health and wellness fair. Leesburg Community Church is partnering with mental health professionals, law enforcement leaders, and elected representatives to host the inaugural HopeFest Health & Wellness Fair 2016.
Last year, Wall attended a large mental health conference led by Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church, a mega church in California, whose son took his own life. He walked away wanting to connect people in need of services with available mental health resources in Loudoun.
“A lot of people don’t know where to go when they are in that moment of need,” Wall said. “That’s literally the impetus behind this event, to say here are all these resources available to you both with and without insurance, with and without legal help.”
HopeFest is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at Leesburg Community Church, 835 Lee Ave. SW in Leesburg.
Katrina Clayton, a counselor who works at Windward Optimal Health in Sterling and HopeFest’s event coordinator, said there’s a clear need for a one-stop-shop health and wellness fair.
“I was really surprised by how many resources are in our community that offer some kind of assistance that’s free, and I’m in the mental health profession,” she said.
She first approached a couple of dozen organizations and they referred her to several others until she’d reached out to more than 100 nonprofit groups about taking part in HopeFest. “It’s been a domino effect of finding all these different organizations out there ready to help.”
Mental health private practices, agencies and organizations will man booths and provide information about their services throughout the day.
The agenda also includes two panel discussions, one on substance abuse and addiction recovery from 10 to 10:45 a.m. and one on suicide awareness and prevention from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Panelists include Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10); Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman; Suzie Bartel, whose teenage son took his own life in 2014; Susan McCormick, founder of The Wellness Connection, among several others.
The day also includes three breakout sessions. One targeting veterans transitioning from military to civilian life from 11 to 11:30 a.m.; a second from 12:30 to 1 p.m. called “Teens Helping Teens” hosted by Woodgrove High School’s We’re All Human club formed to combat suicide and mental illness; and a third from 1:15 to 1:45 p.m. on eating disorders.
Wall is “hoping and praying” that close to 1,000 people attend the event.
“This is a community-wide concern,” he said, noting that one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. “There are people of all faiths that are having mental health issues and we need to get serious about preparing ourselves to at least get them to the resources that are available.”
The plan is for HopeFest to be an annual event, and for those involved with the fair to hold seminars throughout the year designed to keep the conversation going about how to improve the county’s mental health safety net.
“We want to have ongoing seminars and teaching sessions,” he said, “so that hopefully we can change the paradigm of mental health from being a shhh issue to one we address head on.”