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Friday 7 November 2014

Gambling: 'You're Stronger Than You Think' - NSW Government Initiative

Brought to you by Nuffnang and NSW Government.

You know what they say about a problem, a life issue, a challenge that is having a huge impact on your life: the first step to tackling it is acknowledging you actually have a problem. Without this, the issue is still in your head, it still threatens to derail you and there truly seems to be no end in sight. No hope, no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Gambling is one of these insidious problems. For the person in the grip of what can potentially be a huge, all-consuming issue, burying one’s head in the sand and propagating the problem only succeeds in amplifying it, nothing else.

We are fortunate to live in a country – a truly lucky one – that outlines societal issues and works out ways to help those at their mercy. Gambling is one such issue.

Australians spend nearly $12 billion a year on poker machines and three quarters of people who have a serious problem with gambling play the pokies. The occasional punt can be seen as part of the cultural fabric of Australia – you have a go and try your luck at your local. Yet, Australia-wide, this is a huge concern, not a matter to be treated flippantly.

In NSW, problem gambling is a major - and largely invisible - problem. It’s a typical Australian oxymoron that whilst gambling is considered to be a normal and widely-accepted activity, it is also considered shameful when problems arise from it.

The self-control of the gambler is put under the spotlight – and this is where the ongoing stigma applies. Can that person not control their behaviour? Can’t someone talk to them, tell them they have a problem? Can they not share their concerns with a loved one? Or reach out for help? And… can’t they see they have a problem? And, we are back to step one: acknowledging a problem.

As with anything entrenched in deep-seated psychological behaviours, the process must start with being strong enough to access help. And the only person that can make that first step is the person with the problem.

While I have not experienced problem gambling firsthand, I do know that I have overcome huge life milestones like dealing with grief, dementia, autism and the challenges of raising twins. After all this, there is one thing I know I have in common with tackling the huge concern of problem gambling: I am much stronger than I think.

Over time – and each concern could take weeks or months, sometimes years – the resilience within becomes apparent and you’ll find yourself stronger each day.

It’s the same – I’d imagine – with overcoming the very real challenges of gambling addiction.

Primarily, problem gambling is characterised by secrecy and shame around money: the difficulties in accessing money and the limitations on spending that money on gambling, as well as time spent on the actual gambling – away from family and friends and usual interactions. This leads to adverse consequences for the gambler, others or for the community: isolation, depression, loneliness, intense guilt and self-loathing, which lead to an even deeper depression. The cycle is never ending, unless that person seeks help.

With research indicating that problem gambling is not well understood by society and that this in turn contributes to the stigma associated with having a gambling problem, this too is a vicious cycle.

Statistics show that between 8-17% of people with a gambling problem seek professional help (of any kind), and this subset of people tends to be those who have hit rock bottom and are in crisis. And this group is far more likely to have a problem with gaming machines than any other form of gambling.

Almost half of people seeking help suffer from anxiety and depression, and around one third of help seekers have a problem with alcohol.

The thing is: we live in a more compassionate world now, thanks in large part to the open dialogue created by social media and the trend for confessional-style articles. It’s as good a time as ever to key into this compassion and open chat, therefore arming people with a gambling problem with the tools and the environment to feel free to take that first step: to get help.

While we want to break down the stigma, we still have a long way to go. Feel free to use this blog post as a way to start the gambling acknowledgement process. You can email or comment anonymously. You will be surprised at just how good this first step feels. Help is at hand, and it’s not far away at all.

It’s also free. You can learn more at www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au or visit this link: http://goo.gl/Ng2ezH

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