Gay and bisexual men are being offered an innovative new online service offering advice and support on sex, drugs and alcohol.
Friday/Monday has been launched by leading LGBT charities Terrence Higgins Trust and London Friend as the first online counselling service for gay and bi men, offering digital support groups and virtual one-one counselling.
It is hoped the new scheme, which was funded by the Public Health England HIV Prevention Innovation Fund, will encourage men who live in rural areas or who want to receive support in a familiar, non-judgemental space to seek help and advice over any behaviour that may be putting their health at risk.
After being diagnosed with HIV at the age of 27, James didn’t have sex or take drugs for three years. When he decided he was ready to begin seeing people again however, the proliferation of apps and drugs and the gay scene quickly drew him into the world of so-called ‘chemsex’.
“I’ve always tried to play it as safe as possible, but last summer it went apocalyptic, says James. “I went to a party, which I don’t like doing, and I felt really anxious. I took drugs there and ended up having an anxiety attack.
“From there I was taking drugs every weekend. I’d meet people in groups and it would go on for days. Drugs would help me relax, but they also gave me an artificial sense of confidence which could be harmful. I had more STIs more frequently and I knew I could do a better job at work if I’d been more alert and healthy.”
James has since received the support he needs, and has hailed the Friday/Monday scheme as an important and innovative way of ensuring more gay men will have access to counselling and support services wherever they are in the country.
“I want to stay away from this behaviour, and I think peer support is a good way to do this – speaking to people who are empathetic and have experience of what you are going through. Doing it online means that it’s not constrained by timings and locations.”
Friday/Monday will allows users to interact with a counsellor onsceen, or with up to 10 people simultaneously as part of a support group.
Explaining the need the new service, Cary James, Head of Health Promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’re delighted to be working with London Friend to deliver this important and much needed project.
“Mainstream services often don’t meet the needs of gay men whose drug and alcohol use is linked to their sex life. This can leave them feeling isolated. These online services will reach out to these men and provide specialist support from people who really understand and who will not judge, helping people to get back in control of their sexual and mental health.”
Monty Moncrieff, Chief Executive of London Friend, says: “If you find yourself stuck in a cycle, these online services can help you understand the role that drugs and alcohol are playing in your life and give you the knowledge and tools to make the changes you want.
“Wherever you live, and whether you want to cut back a bit, be safer or quit entirely, we’ll be there at the click of a button to support, help and guide you through it.”
James adds: “My advice for anyone who finds themselves seeking support is to identify why they are doing it. For me it was because I felt like I’m damaged goods and, as I don’t go out much anymore, it was a fast track way of meeting people.
“It’s all very well people telling you to stop, but first you need to know why you’re doing it in the first place. That’s where projects like this come in.”
You can find out more and sign up at fridaymonday.org.uk.