This World Suicide Prevention Day, guest blogger Matt, 26 from Kent, shares his experience of gambling harms and why it’s important to stay connected.
“I started gambling when I was 17. At first, I bought scratch cards, and it was fun.
It was just a couple of quid here and there; it wasn’t an issue at first. But when I was turning 18 and heading to uni, I signed up for online accounts with a couple of different companies. Obviously, as a student, you’re quite poor. I thought I would be able to make a bit more money. At first, I would say I was gambling socially, but it got heavier as I came towards the end of uni.
When I discovered electronic gaming machines in betting shops, and then online roulette, something started to change. I thought the odds would be better. I was still betting relatively small amounts, but it didn’t take long until I was betting up to £80 a day and I had to take on another part time job to keep going.
It didn’t help that I was living in a house with other gamblers – we would sometimes link our laptops to the TV and gamble together. I just didn’t see that it was beginning to be a problem – the way I saw it, I was still making a profit. I didn’t pay attention to the losses.
When I left uni, I signed with an acting agent within just a couple of weeks, and found my first acting job within three months. I’d moved back home, and was earning well, and I continued to gamble. I didn’t talk to anyone about it though, I’d never heard of anything like GamCare either. I just tried to push the doubts back, I didn’t prioritise it – I thought I could cut back by myself.
Soon I was spending up to £600 a day, and more and more time gambling. Even though I was paid well, I ended up taking other part time jobs so that I could gamble more.
One morning, when my dad got up for work at 5am, hearing him moving around was the only reason I realised I had stayed up all night. I’d started to avoid my parents – I would have dinner with them but excuse myself early to go to my room and gamble. I was acting – making normal conversation but thinking about gambling. I didn’t want them to worry about me.
One night I lost everything – all my savings gone in one night, but I still didn’t stop. I took out an overdraft and a credit card, and I carried on. I even bet £1,500 on a single hand of blackjack, and I lost it all.
I was 22 and in debt, it didn’t feel like there was any way out of the situation. I realised that my gambling was out of my control. I also realised that even if someone had handed me money to pay my debts, I wouldn’t.
I was still acting like everything was fine, even though I felt like crap. I even arranged to meet my brother to watch the rugby that afternoon, but by now I wasn’t planning on being there. I felt I’d let everyone down. When my parents left for work, I put a plan to take my life into action… Later, I remember a lady with her daughter trying to reassure me I’d be ok, that I would survive.
There was a moment of clarity when I spoke to my family about what happened. I realised I was lucky – I had people who cared about me, and a network that could support me. I realised I had to be honest, and keep being open about what I was feeling. I did have a couple of counselling sessions, but fundamentally what has helped me is talking to my family and close friends. I’ve had to take practical steps to avoid situations that would usually have led to me gambling, which has gotten a little easier over time, and I’m more aware of money and the personal challenge to spend it wisely.
I still do have an urge to gamble sometimes, but I haven’t – I’m honest with myself and my family when this happens, and my fiancé knows everything. If a gambling advert makes me feel uncomfortable, I talk about it, so I can make sure that what happened never happens again. I know that ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, and I think that people should know that if they have even a small doubt or worry about their gambling, there is help out there so they can stop it getting worse.
I now have a joint account with my fiancé so that we can both keep track of our finances – it’s an additional safeguard for me. I also know that if I’m going to be around gambling for any reason, I can ask my mates to look after my money, and it’s best to avoid alcohol.
Trust is the most important thing – my fiancé trusts me, and I trust myself more. The worst thing when I was gambling was the loss of control I felt, the fact that I’d let myself down, but I couldn’t stop. Now, I feel like a completely different person, and my relationships with the people I love are even more valuable than ever. I know that would all be lost if I gambled again.
I want others to know that your losses don’t have to be massive for gambling to have a real impact – it’s all relative to you. I also really want young people, particularly students, to understand that gambling is not a way to make money. It’s not healthy to think of it that way.
We need to help one another understand the signs of someone struggling with gambling. It could look like a lot of other things, so we need to remember to check in with each other and keep talking.
If something is worrying you, have a conversation with your loved one and you can work on turning it around.
It’s always worth a conversation, making that connection with someone – it can help you turn something harmful into a positive step forward. Always remember – you are not alone.”
If you’re worried about gambling – either your own, or you’re worried about a loved one – you can talk to GamCare around the clock on Freephone 0808 80 20 133 or live chat here.
Further help and support is also available through:
Samaritans: 116 123 (24 hours a day) / www.samaritans.org
The Maytree: a charity supporting people in crisis in a non-medical setting in London – visit www.maytree.org.uk for more information.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – www.thecalmzone.net / 0800 58 58 58 (5pm – Midnight)
The Mental Health Foundation: www.mentalhealth.org.uk
HopelineUK (for under 35s): 0800 068 4141 / www.papyrus-uk.org/hopelineuk/