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World Mental Health Day: How gambling disorder and other mental health concerns combine

On World Mental Health Day (October 10), three members of our team who were affected by very different forms of gambling disorder have been discussing how it intertwines with other mental health concerns.

Greg Weber (casino), David Sproson (loot boxes) and Simon Haworth (horse racing) have all shared their thoughts for a thought-provoking video that you can watch here, based on their lived experience of gambling-related harm and other mental health issues.

For Greg, our programme facilitator who plays a key role in our delivery to audiences across the US, he found that the pressure of being an outwardly successful professional poker player became too great to bear, as it hid the secret that in his own time at casinos – or later their online equivalents – he was gambling in a far less controlled manner, and encountering significant losses in the process.

“I was just perceived from all of my friends and family as somebody that was just successful at gambling, which just wasn’t really the case,” he explained.

“People saw me play these poker tournaments, have success in them, but I only talked to people about my gambling when I was winning. Behind closed doors, nobody really knew what was going on and the extent of the losses and the damage to my mental health and how bad it had gotten for me.

“So gambling, in a sense, is the hidden addiction, because there’s no outward signs of it. Somebody could be experiencing it right in front of your eyes, and you may never know it. It was very tough for me, mentally, to deal with, when everybody viewed me as successful and I wasn’t as successful as they thought.

“I was actually really struggling with gambling at the time. It took a big toll on my mental health. My mood was entirely based on if I was winning or losing that day.

“Depression and insomnia were big issues – I just really couldn’t sleep – and when I did, I would wake up yelling because of the stress that was going on that I couldn’t really talk about.

“It was definitely a constant battle of trying to deal with my emotions and this perspective of me, and it was something that I ultimately couldn’t do any longer.”

Dave Sproson faced a different kind of addiction, with loot boxes being the issue he tackled, as he spent thousands of pounds on the risk mechanisms that come from that kind of gambling through gaming.

Those around him couldn’t understand the issue, which increased the level of stress and anxiety in Dave’s close circles as they tried to come to terms with why his spending on products within console games was so high.

“A lot of people don’t see loot boxes as gambling,” explained our head of safer gambling.

“They used to see it as a video game, and so certain members of my family thought that I’d just been completely irresponsible, didn’t care about my family, and had just spent money on a game. They didn’t speak to me for a good amount of time.

“However, my cousin got in touch with me, because she worked for a gambling operator and she sat me down and said, ‘look, if you take away the product that you were buying and just look at your activity, you were gambling outside of your means or spending outside of your means. You were taking payday loans, you were using credit that you couldn’t afford. You were lying to people, you were being secretive.’

“There are mental health effects to that when it’s affecting your family.

“All of those things are consistent with gambling addiction and the same behaviours that somebody with a gambling disorder would go through.”

Our third contributor to the video, Simon Haworth, is a passionate advocate of mental health awareness after experiencing how the condition affected his football career, and has recently engaged with EPIC as a programme facilitator having been affiliated to us through his work with our partners WHYSUP, who specialise in positive mental health provision.

The former professional footballer – who played Premier League football for Coventry City and was capped internationally by Wales – turned to horse racing to replicate the buzz of a playing career, having been forced to retire at the age of 28 following a serious double leg break.

Describing his journey from gambling as a pastime to gambling as a necessity to fill a personal and financial void in his life, he admitted:

“It went from wanting to win to needing to win. I had to now find not only a financial substitute for my football career, but an emotional one, and that’s what I was trying to do.

“I was trying to find the affirmations, the praise, the scoring in front of 20,000 people. I was also trying to find the financial gap, and I wasn’t in any position to bridge that gap.

“My mental health was poor and this carried on for a period of about ten years.”

Thankfully, all three – along with all of the other facilitators who help to share EPIC’s crucial lived experience message for the benefit of others – have now found recovery, but not without having first hit some very dark times.

Through the support of others – especially those close to them and the specialist organisations who can intervene on gambling-related harm or other mental health issues – they were able to take their first steps towards recovery.

As ever, if you’re struggling with gambling disorder or any other mental health concern, we urge you to ensure you don’t suffer it alone – reach out for help.

Make World Mental Health Day the moment you start a conversation with people who can help. Information on support providers can be found by clicking here, or follow the ‘Support’ button at the top of the page.

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