Gambling and Mental Health

May 21, 2023 Gambling

Gambling involves placing a value on a random event with the aim of winning something else of value. This may be money, goods or services. Regardless of the outcome, gambling involves taking a risk and can lead to harm to people and communities. Harm from gambling is not only experienced by people with a mental health condition, but also those without one. It is important to recognise that this is a complex issue and there are many different causes and types of harm, so that prevention and treatment strategies can be effectively developed.

A number of studies have shown that the link between gambling and poor mental health is strong, including the possibility of a gambling addiction. In recent years the psychiatric community has moved towards treating pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, which is comparable to other impulsive disorders such as kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair pulling). In addition, a number of treatments for other addictions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can help people with a gambling problem, by helping them to change their irrational beliefs about gambling and betting. For example, people who have a gambling addiction often believe that they are more likely to win than they really are or that certain rituals can bring them luck. In a CBT session, these thoughts and behaviours can be challenged to enable people to break free of their gambling addiction.

In the first phase of this project, a series of focus groups and interviews were conducted with participants who identified as either: a person who gambled; an affected other; or both a person who gambled and an affected other. The data generated by this process highlighted the breadth of harm experienced by people who engage in gambling, indicating that the definitions of harm currently used in gambling policy and research are limited, with a strong bias toward symptomatology as an indicator of harm.

The findings from this work suggest a new framework for the conceptualisation of gambling related harm that is more consistent with the public health approach to measuring health outcomes. It enables the identification of the three levels of harm experienced, from direct impact on the person who gambles to legacy and intergenerational harms. In addition, the framework is inclusive of the wider societal impacts and can be applied to a wide range of circumstances, not just those associated with gambling disorder.

While a person with a gambling addiction may have a range of reasons for their behaviour, most are driven by a need to feel in control and avoid the feeling of loss. This can be particularly acute when a person is experiencing financial difficulties such as debt, a lack of income or housing issues. In these situations, it is especially important to seek support and advice. If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling addiction, speak to a stepChange counsellor for free and confidential advice. Alternatively, you can contact a local gambling support service to see what options are available.

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