How addressing mental health can reduce harm

How Stonewall serves our community

Whether it’s to experience fun and adventure or to cope with anxiety, binge drinking, meth and other substances are many times tied to mental health.

“They can go hand-in-hand,” said Mike Discepola, San Francisco AIDS Foundation director of behavioral health services and the Stonewall Project. “People in our population—gay, bi and trans men—will oftentimes experience traumas early in life that may lead to mental health challenges later in life. Or, issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, or low self-esteem develop for other reasons. And then people sometimes use substances to cover up or self-medicate when they are going through difficult times in their lives. Substance use can oftentimes create or intensify mental health symptoms. So, in our outpatient substance use treatment program, we help clients with both.”

This is precisely what the Stonewall Project, a program of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, is designed to do. The 20 counselors on staff hold group sessions for people to address their substance use and other related issues, and also hold one-on-one sessions where clients can work more privately with a counselor on substance use and mental health concerns.

Counselors collaborate on a care plan with the on-staff psychiatrist medical director, who oversees treatment for issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and more. Stonewall Project counselors also work with outpatient primary care providers and psychiatrists for clients who need additional supportive care.

The Stonewall Project is a harm reduction program, and doesn’t enforce or require abstinence from substances. This means that the counseling team makes it a priority to do consultations with the on-staff psychiatrist and external care providers and create care plans that meet clients’ needs whether they’re using substances or whether they have decided to abstain. 

“We meet people wherever they’re at,” said Discepola. “We don’t require people to be sober before they get help with a mental health issue. We figure out, how can we help this person be more successful in their life? That might first start with having our psychiatrist develop a treatment plan to help someone with their psychosis. Or helping someone reduce their anxiety while they’re also working on reducing their meth use.” 

The Stonewall Project provides many opportunities for people to get support around substance use and mental health. Please see for a current list of the more than 20 group sessions available to drop-in clients and/or people currently enrolled in the Stonewall structured program.

If you are interested in finding out more about enrolling as a client, stop by Strut (470 Castro Street) or San Francisco AIDS Foundation (1035 Market Street, 4th floor) at 4 pm Monday – Friday for a walk-in counseling session. Or, call our main line at 415-487-3100.

Enrolled clients agree to meet with their counselors once a week for six to eighteen months and attend two groups each week. Find out more at     

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