Having been classified as a mental health condition, the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (15th – 21st May) provides the platform for EPIC Risk Management to share its lived experience of how gambling disorder can co-exist alongside other mental health concerns such as depression, stress and this year’s official focus theme of ‘anxiety’.
Around half of EPIC’s staff have experienced gambling-related harm, and as a consequence, are very well aware of its status as a mental health concern.
Thankfully, every one of those individuals find themselves in recovery now, and use their lived experience to not only educate others of the potential dangers of gambling disorder, but provide hope to those currently undergoing the destructive experience that there is hope for a better future with the right decisions, interventions and support.
Among those who have shared their experience with us ahead of the awareness week are our director of safer gambling, Dan Spencer (pictured), who found that anxiety paired with several other issues to extend his experience of gambling-related harm over a 16-year period.
“I think with most addictions, comorbidity with poor mental health is extremely common,” he explains.
“It’s certainly something that I did deal with – depression, anxiety, suicidality – but I couldn’t have told you that at the time.
“I couldn’t have self-diagnosed because of my preoccupation with the subject of the addiction with gambling. I’m not really sure which one leads to another, but they definitely ‘live together’ and get worse at what I can see now is the same rate, but it is only looking back now and thinking what my life was like at that period, that objectively I could say that I was in a severe depression or dealing with some really anxious or dangerous suicidal thoughts.”
He advises reaching out for help, having realised at the point at which he opened up about his prolonged issues with those closest to him that their support was always there; he just needed to have asked sooner. He continued:
“Ultimately, I think that when I came out about my addiction, the thing that crushed me the most was how quickly and how effectively the people around me were there to support.
“The reason it crushed me is that I let this thing go on for 16 years, thinking nobody could ever understand what I was going through. How can someone be addicted to losing their own money? It makes no sense. I didn’t think anyone would ever get it.
“When everyone was there to support me the minute that I said I had a problem, I was just overwhelmed with this feeling that I could have done this 10 or 15 years ago, and got help for this problem.
“That’s what motivates me to do my work today. This doesn’t need to go on for so long. There will always be people that get trapped in addiction.
“This is an illness that will always affect people, but it doesn’t need to be sustained to the point where someone feels like they have to take their life to get out of it.”
Another member of Dan’s ‘Safer Gambling’ team at EPIC, Alan Smart, went through a similar process, and has shared his experiences on how to sustain a positive period in recovery after making the step to seek help. Our harm prevention manager explains how starting to attend Gamblers Anonymous (GA) was the decision that changed everything for him:
“When you go into GA, there are certain things that you commit to. I went home and I told my partner everything. I phoned all of my creditors and told them that I was a gambling addict. I closed all of my online accounts.
“So that’s just to start with, you then have to fill the void and that’s the hardest part. For me, that was involving myself with the family again; getting the love back from my family, feeling emotions again, and getting involved. That was really, really important. To this day, it’s still those things.
“One of the biggest things I’ve got in my toolbox now is my phone, because I’ve got an army – a network of help out there.
“Just being able to talk and open up is probably the single help that I’ve got and I use to this day.”
Other members of our team have also cited pastimes like running, reading, yoga and meditation among the healthy pursuits that can help to replace the ‘void’ when destructive gambling habits are removed from your life.
Throughout this week, we will be sharing a series of videos from EPIC’s lived experience staff across our social media platforms, where they recall how various mental health conditions combined to exacerbate their gambling harm, as well as sharing positive reflections on how they have been able to put those challenges behind them as a source of hope to others who are currently in a similar situation.
Within our website, our ‘Support’ section provides a number of important contact points for anyone currently experiencing gambling disorder or other related mental health conditions. If you recognise signs of gambling harm or mental health concerns in your current actions or feelings, please don’t hesitate to both reach out to one of the relevant support providers listed and speak to those closest to you to find solutions to the issues you are facing.