Those with mental health problems can be sucked into the dark world of gambling. Many mental health sufferers saw gambling as an escape, while others saw it as a way to self-harm. The escape gave people a reason to get out of bed and approach the day, provided that they were able to win some money. A slippery slope. On the other side of the coin, the self-harm would come in the form of financial loss. People see losing money as a way of hurting themselves; it is a self-destructive behaviour that can have serious impacts on the livelihoods of these people, as well as the wellbeing of those around them.
In quite a catch-22, some people view gambling as a way to pay off existing debts.
Mental health issues can make people more impulsive and lose their sensible ability to make decisions. Such problems can make it more difficult for people to make important life decisions, such as getting on top of household bills. Such struggles can be seized upon by overly accessible gambling environments, that promote high wins and downplay the drawbacks that come with gambling. Some effort has been put in place to curb this, through measures such as the slogan from the Senet Group: when the fun stops, stop. However, the effectiveness of this slogan has been debated.
Almost 1 in 3 sufferers of mental health who gamble online have claimed that it can be difficult to stay in control of online gambling. Even 1 in 4 gamblers without mental health problems have struggled to maintain control whilst betting online.
It’s worth noting that offline gambling such as slot games or fixed odds betting terminals have stake limits. This prevents a player from spending too much at once. However, this does not transfer over to online games, where many games are not supplemented with safety-net stake limits. Some games are also done at a fast pace, encouraging less thought when putting money on the line.
The general worry with online gambling is that it feels separated to everyday life. The money that is placed down is virtual and 40% of people experiencing mental health problems have admitted that it doesn’t feel like they are spending money whilst gambling online. Main Research Community respondents highlighted that these transactions can make cash feel like “Monopoly money”.
Collectively, the ease of spending, game design, and the transaction of virtual money can corrupt the mind of someone with mental health struggles; they will not be able to see the dangers that games like this can pose.
Problems intensity when people don’t seek out help, and those who suffer from severe mental health issues are unlikely to pursue immediate intervention. Avoidance is a common way of coping with issues like anxiety and, if you couple those struggles with debt challenges, it can lead to a nightmarish situation for many people.
Gambling regulators have been trying to push for proactive support to those with mental health difficulties. There is still a long way to go.