Is gambling affecting your mental health?
As well as the more obvious effects that a gambling problem can have on a your financial situation, there can also be a serious impact on your mental health.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, problem gamblers are more likely than others to suffer from low self-esteem, develop stress-related disorders, to become anxious, have poor sleep and appetite, to develop a substance misuse problem and to suffer from depression.
In this section we try to explain this a bit more, and give you some ideas for steps you might take if this concerns you.
Are you experiencing some or all of the following?
- Having extreme emotions or mood swings?
- Feeling that gambling is the only thing you enjoy, to the exclusion of other things?
- Finding it difficult to sleep?
- Feeling depressed or anxious?
- Having suicidal thoughts?
- Using gambling as a way to deal with other problems or emotions in your life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, this could be an indication that gambling is becoming a problem.
If you're not sure how your gambling affecting you at this stage, it might help you to take our self assessment test to find out more.
Problem Gambling and Mental Health
Although a lot of people gamble to escape feelings of depression or other mental health problems, gambling can actually make these conditions worse.
One reason that problem gambling can affect mental health is the way people experience 'highs' and 'lows' when gambling. If you gamble a lot yourself, you may have found the experience of anticipating 'the big win' to be very mentally involving and extremely exciting, perhaps better than feelings created by any other activity. You may also have found the devastation of losing to be a massive low, leading to feelings of despair.
This is especially the case in very high-risk forms of gambling, where very large amounts of money are being staked. This increases the potential for the massive 'high', but also makes the 'low' feel worse when it comes. Feelings of loss and despair following a gambling spree can lead to greater desires to gamble straight away in order to try and get back on a 'high'. However, by continuing to gamble, any negative feelings only get worse.
The impact of these highs and lows on the mental health of a person is significant. Studies show that brain chemistry and cell structure can actually be changed by this type of exposure. The brain's system of 'rewards' can be affected: where previously you might have found pleasure in other activities such as food or sex, you may now find that these don't hold so much appeal.
The good news is that studies have shown that brain chemistry can be rebalanced, and everyday life can start to feel good again. Finding ways to reduce your gambling and getting the right support for yourself can begin this process.
It is important to speak to professionals if you are worried about the impact of gambling on your mental health. Your GP may be the first person you talk to, and they may refer you to specialist services if they feel this will help. If you are not registered with a GP, you can find one local to you at www.nhs.uk
If you are concerned about your gambling, GamCare has a range of help, advice and support services.
Problem gambling and suicide
Although there are no official statistics that link problem gambling and suicide, it's not difficult to understand how people could feel that there is no other way out. With other addictions, such as drugs or alcohol, there is a limit to how much a person's body can take before they need medical intervention. Gambling is not like that, and often a downward spiral can continue unchecked for a long time. Especially if large amounts of debt are involved, it can seem as though there is no other option.
Don't wait until it seems like life is not worth living. There is help available and you aren't on your own.
If you have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts or feelings, it is really important to seek professional help as soon as possible. You could contact the Samaritans and/or speak to your GP.
You might find the following links useful.
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
116 123 (24-hour helpline)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm)
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.
A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
Charity offering support and carrying out research into mental illness.
0845 767 8000 (daily, 6pm-11pm)
SANEmail email: [email protected]
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
The Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.
Parents' helpline 0808 802 5544 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)
Prevention of suicide amongst young people
HopelineUK: 0800 068 4141
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Whether you have a gambling problem yourself, or you are impacted by someone else's gambling, GamCare has a range of services designed to help you.Find out more
If you are worried that you or someone you know is gambling too much you can talk to a HelpLine adviser from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.Find out more