The impact gambling difficulties have on mental health is profound. Good mental health helps you to meet the demands of everyday life. It helps you deal with life challenges. It is also important to having satisfying relationships, being able to work, and contribute to society. This means damage to mental health from gambling is bad not just for individuals. It is also bad for families, communities, and society.
Sometimes, diagnosable mental health problems, neurodiversity, or trauma made gambling especially dangerous for people. Many were experiencing life difficulties. But these are the kinds of changes and challenges that any of us face. This means anyone can become more vulnerable to gambling harm. Also, some people do not have any mental health or life challenges and still develop gambling difficulties because gambling is addictive.
However, everyone has said gambling difficulties damaged their mental health. This damage is more than any mental health problems they may have had before. For some people, their physical health also suffered.
There are many mental health harms such as mood swings, depression, stress, and anxiety. People experience shame, damage to their self-worth and self-punishment. They may withdraw from their family and friends, leaving them feeling isolated. They may be unable to concentrate. People could not control their own thoughts and actions. This was very stressful and distressing to them. Most people said they became suicidal. Gambling contributed to other harmful behaviours, such as drinking more alcohol. People have described gambling as causing trauma. They may have flashbacks and panic attacks. Their lives are changed forever.
People have said that that when they are gambling more often, they do not function like they usually do. They do not address life challenges as well, and instead any problems they have get worse. Sleep is often disturbed. People cannot concentrate. Their attention is taken away from work and relationships.
People have described having mood swings based on whether they are able to gamble. They may have irritability or tension if they are unable to gamble. Some have mood swings if they have won or lost.
People have described being very stressed. They are constantly anxious. They talk about a repeating pattern of worry and panic. They worry about their gambling, and about the money they have lost. Then they are stressed about not having the funds to gamble, and by trying to find money to carry on gambling. Then they are stressed when they gamble and lose money again. And so, it goes on. Trying to keep all this hidden from others adds to the worry.
The rattiness comes in because you’re not sleeping, so you get quite jittery and ratty, and you just become a shell of what you are, really. And that’s all I can describe it as. Some days you can maybe function, you might have a few wins and you’re feeling quite good, but then even on those days, you’re looking for more. And so, it goes from something that’s a little five-minute bet to something that becomes your life, takes over your job, takes over your family life and it’s dark. It’s a very dark place to be.
But when you’ve got an addiction to gambling, it’s literally in your head all the time. You can’t think. Say if you’re doing a job, you can’t — you’re thinking of that in the back of your mind, you can’t concentrate on anything… I didn’t even know what day it was because I was just literally overwhelmed thinking about how much money I owed and that I couldn’t actually stop.
People have said that they are plagued by intrusive thoughts about gambling. These are thoughts that come into your mind against your will, and you cannot get them out of your head. They experience urges and compulsions to gamble that are overwhelming. Several people have experienced visual images of gambling and physical sensations. It is extremely stressful and distressing to people that they can not control their gambling and they will gamble even if they do not want to.
Self-stigma, shame, feeling they are behaving contrary to themselves and those around them, is damaging to a person’s mental health. People have said they feel as if it is all their fault. People have described hating themselves and feeling worthless. For some, gambling becomes a way of punishing themselves or self-harming.
I’ve tried to do stuff to stop being scared, and then I’ve done quite well, or very well with my life. I’ve been very lucky. But why should somebody like me be that lucky? I don’t deserve to be this lucky, and it wasn’t lucky it was hard work. But in my mind, it’s like you don’t deserve this, you don’t deserve this, and as soon as I found the gambling, I could just bring it right back down. It’s like the bloody army going in and just bombing quickly. You know, it’s terrible, terrible harm really, really quickly.
Making people suicidal
Almost everyone who shared their experiences had thoughts of ending their life. Some come very close to trying to end their life. Some have attempted suicide.
This is because they feel so trapped by gambling. Many people feel as if there is no hope of ever being able to stop and escape. People feel as if they are the problem. They feel as if they cannot face other people or continue in society. People can believe that no one can help them. They may feel as if they don’t deserve to have help or a good life. They can think others would be better off without them.
I was very depressed and at a low that I’ve never felt in my life. Existing for a stage whilst having an addiction. I did have suicide thoughts twice, both whilst I was driving. I didn’t go through with it. Maybe because I’ve got two children, but you still thought it. It still went through my mind.
People may be driven towards ending their life when gambling has led to a point of crisis. They may be desperate battling with their financial situation following a gambling session. This may be a session with large losses. Or it could be when their gambling or crime they have committed due to gambling is exposed.
I was falling behind with a lot of payments for things. And I realized I was in trouble now. I was probably down to my last £50,000 and I started to panic. I felt like a rising panic of needing to win… I didn’t know whether to start playing poker again or stop and just keep the £50,000. And I panicked and £41,000 in one day unexpectedly. And that ultimately left me with 13 pence in my account, which ultimately left me in a very bad financial and physical and mental place. I had a bit of a breakdown, suicide attempt. And that’s as close to rock bottom as you can get as far as I’m concerned.
Where it had got so bad, I had committed fraud by abuse of position. That’s where my gambling had led me. So in the space of a week, I went from having my own place, partner, career, everything, to having to declare myself bankrupt, lost my job, got arrested, lost my partner, lost absolutely everything in the space of three days, so it was a very trying time… which did ultimately lead to attempted suicide.
Having thoughts and feelings of wanting to end their life is frightening and distressing to people. Some speak about how close they have been to ending their life. And that other people have not survived gambling harm. People often reflect on knowing people that have ended their life because of gambling.
You’ve got access to things to try and help you out to try and get straight but realistically, you’re just going down a deeper and deeper hole and eventually, it could lead to– You hear about people who’ve taken their own lives, because they’ve got in such a mess, the embarrassment, the shame, the money they owe. At times, you do think, “How can I get straight? How can I get back to normal? How can I pay this money back?” Questions are just going over and over in your head and then again, this is when you’re lying awake at night, and you do at times, you get some really dark thoughts as though, “Is there a way out from this?” I can almost understand why people do drastic things because you just don’t think there’s a way out.
For some, becoming suicidal is a turning point. This makes them see, it is either them or the gambling. They decide they want to live. Often it is the thought of what it would mean to people close to them, especially children, which keeps them from ending their life.
But I took out a 25 grand loan that night because I lost all the money, all the money for the builders. Fortunately, we’d paid a lot of it before, but there was still thousands and thousands to be paid to the builders. And then I took out a 25 grand loan and I put £22,000 into that Casumo account in two hours and 11 minutes. And, you know, nobody stopped it. I lost. I lost everything. And I stopped. I was like “thank God it’s gone” and something hit me at that point it was, you’re going to kill yourself? Because if you kill yourself, you’ve left them with nothing. Well go and get help. And I did.
People could also experience suicidality once they had stopped gambling. They are up against the after-effects of gambling on their lives and those around them, and feelings of shame, regret and loss.
Contributing to other addictions
A few people have said they experienced other addictions. This is often relates to coping with trauma or life challenges. Sometimes gambling more goes along with drinking more alcohol during a difficult time. However, several people have said that they started drinking more alcohol to cope with the stress and misery of gambling.
It went from something that was a bit of fun and a buzz to something that just became all consuming… So, when you’ve got a gambling addiction, you don’t wake up and think “Right, I’ll have a bet at six o’clock”. You wake up thinking, “Right, what am I going to have a bet on today? How am I going to get this? I lost £2,000 yesterday, how am I going to get that back?” And you have your phone stuck to you because that’s all you’re doing. You’re thinking about it. You become anxious; you get depressed. You start taking other things. Like I said, I started drinking heavily. I couldn’t tell people what was going on.
When people have stopped gambling, they can feel intense fatigue, which occurs after the stress. Initially, some individuals experience a sense of relief and euphoria that they have managed to stop.
However, this is followed by terrible sadness, regret, and grief. This is because they have to start coming to terms with the many consequences gambling difficulties have for themselves and those close to them. These are long-term or even lifelong.
A lot of people speak about the impact that their gambling experiences have on their mental health long after they have stopped gambling. Some people say that gambling has aged them physically. Or it is the cause of various physical health problems they now have.
In terms of the emotional impact of those sorts of things, there’s lots of feelings of guilt and shame and the sort of self-loathing that went with losing money that could have been used for other things. So, lots of regret, you know, which is really difficult to cope with, especially once I kind of have been on the journey to try and stop gambling. Those feelings really come to the front because then you’re like, my headspace was in a different place where I was reflecting on it all, and it’s really difficult because there’s those feelings of regret and resentment and shame that are really, really strong.
For me, my mental health, at the time of gambling, I thought I was okay when I was gambling, because it was distortion. And when really I was not, I was not okay at all. I was just going further and further down a hole. Coming out of gambling, my mental health has suffered in so many ways through loss and what gambling was taken away from me, and that is time with my family, rejection, shame, guilt. And I have to deal with all of this on a day to day basis. I have to get myself out of bed and try and tell myself that I am a good person, I just did bad things because of addiction. And that is an effort every single day to not go backwards, to try and move forwards.
How does it get to that kind of stress levels and what it must do to people mentally and physically? I’m coming to the acceptance of my life will probably be cut short by the amount of stress I’ve put myself through and the kind of physical impacts that I had after gambling, where I became really quite physically ill and had to have a major operation. Was that something that was hidden by gambling, created by gambling, exacerbated by it? Would it have healed itself?
People often say that the thought of relapsing can cause anxiety and panic. It feels necessary for them to be vigilant against gambling. This tends to be the case for the rest of their lives.
Because the sad fact is, as much as you want to say you recovered and you’re fine, it is always going to be there. I am going to have to be on guard the rest of my life to make sure that I don’t sneak back into it. And when I look at the things that have got me back into it in the past, it’s so innocuous. It’ll be an email, or it’ll be just something I’ll see on TV or something like that. It’ll just trigger something in my mind saying, “Oh, I’ll have a look. What harm can there be in having a look?”, and then you’re back in.
Gambling causes trauma
Several people have said that their experience of gambling has been traumatic. This is due to being addicted and not being able to control what they are doing. It is also due to the harm they and those close to them have suffered.
Some are left with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They have flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. People feel as if their life, sense of self and their relationships have been very disrupted. They feel as if their lives have been forever changed. That gambling companies have used and exploited them adds to their trauma. As does feeling that the government does not care about them.
I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and they attributed that to the gambling, direct diagnosis from gambling harm.
It’s a matter of life. Like now, I am a dead horse. I’m not gambling now for three years, but I’m empty. I don’t have money. Still I have trauma, when I see the bookies shop, I am just shaking. It’s like trauma.