Anne led a happy family life with her husband and children until a telephone call turned their lives upside down. Following tests, her husband had been diagnosed with cancer and she spent the next two months at his hospital bedside watching him grow weaker but refusing to accept that he would die. “The hospital told me to bring the children to say their goodbyes and I just refused. It would give him the chance to let go.” Throughout the ordeal Anne played down the seriousness of the situation and did her best to protect her children and close family members.
Fast forward twelve months and Anne’s husband was back at work after going into remission. Life returned to normal. But not for Anne. After months of holding it together the aftershock kicked in, leaving her lost and traumatised. Recalling that time, Anne felt she couldn’t ask for help as it was her husband who had the major challenge, who really needed the support.
During a conversation with a workmate one day, it was suggested that Anne “get on those bingo sites and have a chat with the women”. Perhaps an unusual recommendation, however, Anne found it really worked. Chatting to lots of women on bingo forums helped her feel ‘heard’ and reassured. It was a couple of weeks before she actually played a game.
Anne says: “I spent eight weeks solid online and suffered the consequences for seven years.” Within two months Anne had spent £10,000, which was secretly funded by transferring workplace funds.
One day Anne woke up and thought “what am I doing?” She stopped gambling and started to transfer funds back to her workplace. Soon after, discrepancies were discovered, and the police were called. Anne praised the police officer dealing with her case for being understanding and sensitive throughout. She was forced to tell her husband and family what had been going on. She says: “My family were supportive, even though I was expecting everyone to judge me.”
Anne was not given a custodial sentence in court. Feeling immense shame, guilt and pity, Anne remained out of work for seven years. She avoided any treats and refused to let her husband buy her anything new. With her husband ‘paying her way’, her guilt was compounded as she punished herself and struggled to participate fully in life.
A turning point came when Anne went to see her doctor with depression. On being told the waiting list for therapy was over four months and with an offer of medication Anne decided she had to take some positive action. She approached a local charity to volunteer her time which helped on the road to recovery. Anne says: “Not long into the role I was handed the petty cash tin and I felt I had to really try to show I was trustworthy. They already knew it, but I felt I still had to demonstrate it.”
Anne is hoping for a time when gambling problems and addiction is talked about honestly and accepted more in society. During her experience she describes that all she wanted was “a random stranger to ask if she was ok”. She’d like to see more spaces for people to come together and support each other so that we can really begin to tackle the stigma around gambling and addiction. She says: “I wouldn’t have a problem saying ‘I’m off to fat club’ and that’s how easy it should be – no shame or stigma.”
Like four in ten others according to a recent Money and Mental Health Policy Institute survey, Anne says that she would also like banks and financial bodies to monitor gambling spend more closely and have support in place. “My bank could see where the money was going. It was a large amount over a short time. I’d never gambled before, but they didn’t ask if everything was ok.”
Knowing first-hand how easy it can be for gambling to cause such negative consequences, Anne would also like to see fewer gambling advertisements and sponsorships, not just on TV but also across other platforms like social media, given that a younger audience is more likely to see these.
Today Anne works in the community working to bringing people together and enjoys spending time with her family. She would encourage anyone, with any level of worry about their gambling or for someone close to them, to speak out and find the right support.
The National Gambling Helpline is available all day, every day for anyone affected by gambling harms – Advisers are available around the clock to listen to what’s going on for you, provide information and advice and to talk you through all of the options available to you for support. Call now on Freephone 0808 80 20 133 or start a live chat with the team.