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Breaking the invisible barrier: the stigma of talking about problem gambling

Sarah Ramanauskas hears about the work of Neil Platt of Beacon Counselling Trust

Neil Platt's team is there to create awareness of the dangers gambling poses if getting out of control
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Neil Platt's team of therapeutic staff and volunteers provides community-based mental health services for gambling related harm. They work cross-culturally throughout the north-west and take an integrated approach to helping gamblers and those close to them.

Sarah Ramanauskas: Is your focus on preventing people getting into difficulty with gambling in the first place rather than 'treating' problem gamblers?

Neil Platt: Much harm can be experienced by a gambler, and those close to her or him, well before that person is identified as a disordered gambler who needs treatment. We work at the grassroots level, helping everyone – gamblers and non-gamblers – to be more aware of the damage which can be done if gambling gets out of control.

Some of our most important team members are our community connectors – key figures who spread the word about gambling harms and where to go for help. We're seeing increases in gambling-related harm in the same communities which have been hardest hit by Covid. Working on the ground, with health professionals, religious leaders and other respected community figures we think is the best way to raise awareness and encourage people to come forward for whatever support is needed.

The term 'public health approach' is increasingly used in relation to gambling harms, but most people don't know what that looks like. What does it mean to you?

Treating gambling addiction using a public health model means you need to have three things working together: the foundation is education and awareness of the issues, then preventative work in vulnerable areas of the community, and finally developing a treatment pathway for those who are in need of professional support. Rather than treating gambling addiction in isolation, we look to understand and assist with a wide range of issues which might be affecting the individual or their community.

Do you have any awareness campaigns for vulnerable populations? 

We're developing a series of videos and information sources for South Asian communities called Breaking the Sharam. We work with community leaders to get the message out and also provide training for community workers to be a listening ear for people who might need help but don't want to go to a 'professional'.

You have been working for many years in supporting hard-to-reach groups. What have you learned to help address the stigma surrounding gambling addiction?

I call it 'the stigma line' – that invisible barrier people need to cross in order to get help. It's going to be a long road to remove the stigma barrier associated with gambling addiction – there's no quick fix. We work to guide people across that line, knowing that on the other side there will be someone who will provide real help in a non-judgemental way. Far more needs to be done across the board to make people feel that losing control of their gambling is not shameful and should not be hidden.

Tell us about Don't Bet Your Life On It, the set of safer gambling strategies you've developed

This is for any player, not just those who are at risk of developing a gambling problem. It's been put together by real people who have struggled with gambling addiction but it's designed so anyone can relate to it and take away useful learning about how to gamble safely without losing control. We conceptualise it as providing a seat belt to prevent gambling harms occurring.

How can you help those in the gambling industry or those working on the frontline with gamblers to help people in need of support?

We have a new training course, based on a simple first-aid model and developed with the Royal Society of Public Health, which builds the skills needed to identify someone who might be at risk of harm and encourage them to get help. It's an Ofqual Level 2-accredited course in Tackling Gambling Related Harm, the first of its kind in the UK. It's suitable for anyone, you don't need a health or social services background and it's been specifically designed for community-wide use, including gambling operators and frontline staff.

For more information contact

Sarah Ramanauskas is a senior partner at Gambling Integrity, which helps operators focus on safer gambling.

More articles on Safer Gambling:

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Will Safer Gambling Week protect players better than responsible gambling did?

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Fighting on the frontline of gambling addiction as casualties rise during Covid

'I was working all hours but had no money. Just gambling to extinction'

If you are concerned about your gambling and are worried you may have a problem, click here to find advice on how you can receive help


Don't Bet Your Life On It has been put together by real people who have struggled with gambling addiction
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