When IBAS was founded in 1998, attitudes towards mental health among gamblers were notably different. A sprinkling of claim forms talked about the anger, stress or disappointment caused by betting disputes, but in general disputes were referred to in a more matter of fact way than they typically are today.
A great deal has been done to educate and remind people that it isn’t just positive to open up about feelings but that for many it is essential – sometimes life saving to do so. In gambling there are great strides being taken to progress research into the link between gambling and mental health. Political and consumer groups – in particular Gambling With Lives – have called for vital investment and research into the links between compulsive gambling, depression and other mental health conditions.
There’s little doubt in my mind that gambling has affected the mental health of many people who still might never want to admit or even think about it. It might only have happened once or twice. It might only happen occasionally, but it might still be a warning sign you shouldn’t ignore.
The thrill of a winning bet affects everyone differently. All that I’ve read, heard and experienced tells me that betting can have markedly positive and negative psychological effects. It seems to me that there can be a very fine line between the two. If taking part, winning and the buzz that goes with it becomes something you can’t live without, then it can be very hard to let go; and especially so when you find yourself on a losing run, perhaps believing that it just can’t go on any longer (it always might) or that someone who knows as much about horses/greyhounds/football as you is bound to get back on track soon.
Gambling is and should be a leisure activity, but we shouldn’t ignore its undeniable competitive element. Plenty of gamblers are driven by the desire to be seen and known as a ‘winner’. I’ve met dozens of people whose outward self-confidence relies to some extent on them being successful at gambling and being seen to be successful at gambling. I know as well that some of those people have covered up considerable struggles in order to maintain that image.
Back in 1998 IBAS might receive maybe one or two letters each year where the sender would say that compulsive gambling had led them to situations of personal or financial difficulties and they would ask whether we could do anything to help them. This year we have received over 600 similar emails or letters already, and several hundred phone calls as well. What a lot of our team find most saddening is how often we find ourselves hearing from the same people on many occasions.
There are lots of similar scenarios we read about again and again, including:
Gambling works for some people but it isn’t right for everyone. It isn’t weak or soft or defeatist to work out that it isn’t right for you. No one is a better person because they like a bet. It can be very difficult deciding that gambling isn’t working. The betting community is large and accepting. Being a gambler can make you feel part of a family in your local betting shop or bingo club. Betting talk might represent the majority of your social media interactions. Turning your back on that is harder than a lot of people would understand.
Fortunately, there are people who do understand. People who can and will help. People who have lived through the same experiences. Without a lot of googling you can find them online.
The 24/7 National Gambling Helpline 0808 8020 133 (live online chat also available) is free, supportive, experienced and non-judgemental.
The Gordon Moody Gambling Therapy app can be downloaded for free and has received widespread positive feedback.
There are ever-growing numbers of local groups to help people struggling with gambling and ever-growing numbers of people who can testify to the positive benefits they have brought.
It is deeply troubling how many times each month we receive telephone calls or emails in which people mention that difficulties with gambling have caused them to contemplate taking their own lives.
Life is too precious to be given up and any problem caused by gambling can be recovered from.
Gambling or not, if you find life’s problems are overwhelming you, talk to someone. Whoever that person is, they will want to help. You can always call the Samaritans on 116 123.