We’re extremely grateful to Jade Vallis for sharing her experiences and opinions here. There are so many issues raised. Jade expresses so well the pains of gambling, the guilt, the shame and the deeply internalised stigma. In her experience little support was to be found from doctors and nurses which suggests a worrying lack of professional awareness – and sometimes insensitivity.
Gambling disorder, stigma and the barriers created for individuals seeking support.
by Jade Vallis
“How did stigma prevent me from seeking support during my Gambling?”
This is a question I have asked myself many times since I started my recovery from gambling disorder, every person who has suffered Gambling disorder will have slightly differing variations of what they have experienced, and what harmed them and their loved ones the most!
For me, it was a type of deep-rooted self-hatred. Feeling lost and like I had no real purpose. I had been made to doubt myself over & over again, I had dealt with stigma from the moment I fell pregnant with my first child at 17 years old. People would whisper behind my back; midwives would make remarks that made me feel horrible about myself, the most common misconception was I was having a baby to get a council house. The truth was as a new family we lived with my parents for nearly 3 years, when we moved into temporary accommodation because of a strain on my parents’ relationship with me.
My son was an incredibly happy accident and from the minute I found out about his little life, I protected it fiercely. I had to fight stigma when my son was going through the diagnosis process at CAMHS for ADHD & autism. The staff at his primary school made it out to be bad parenting, because I was a young mother. Even when he was processed and CAMHS had said they agreed with me about my son’s behaviour and compulsiveness. The school would continually make remarks such as ‘is there anything going on at home?’ or ‘there is nothing wrong with your son he is just naughty’ it used to make me so angry because any of the anxiety or low self-esteem my son had, was a result of how that school treated him.
I had started my family quite young, but my husband and I were responsible parents, we were married, and our home was a loving, fun home. None of that mattered though! And the reason was stigma. I tried to be involved with the school and was turned away with sarcastic comments and I gave up.
Internalised stigma, guilt and shame
While I was gambling, I knew for a long time that I was in trouble and that my gambling behaviour was out of control. I am generally a very honest & trustworthy person; I care about others and have empathy for all walks of life. I knew what I was doing to my family was wrong, I knew I would be harming them in one way or the other, none of that mattered while I was in that ‘zombie’ state. I just could not stop!
I had to spend every minute I could gambling on my I phone. I would pretend to be putting things away, I would wake up in the middle of the night and gamble, with my husband snoring next to me. I felt ashamed of myself and I felt like I had a dirty secret that I must protect at all costs. I am a mother and a wife, and I know right from wrong! I felt that I was a different person when I gambled and that was how I dealt with the fear, self-loathing, hatred, panic and self-sabotage. I felt that my gambling meant I deserved everything I was experiencing, and that’s why I self-harmed, I really believe gambling was a form of self-harm in a way. I could lose hundreds of pounds while in the same room as my husband or friends or family and act completely normal, inside I would be dying though.
It’s also why I cannot remember those years in active addiction, it was almost an out of body experience. I know that really bad stuff happened in that period, the first time I self-harmed I had lost about £400 in a couple of hours and that was my rent and shopping money, I did not know what to do so I called my dad and told him I had withdrawn the money and it had been stolen from my pocket. he lent me £250 but I felt complete and utter shame about it, I couldn’t tell anyone about it, and I was trembling with shame, guilt and disbelief I had lied about it. That I had made up such a serious lie to get more money to gamble.
I self-harmed that day and then went about my day as if that was all normal. One memory that I do feel awful about is that my teenage children needed money on their lunch accounts, and I had deposited the last £20 to my slots account, I had to make them packed lunch and take it into school, so they were not hungry. I still feel massive guilt over that. I have had to draw a line in all those feelings to move past the feeling of guilt and of being ashamed of myself and of self-loathing and self-hatred. I must remind myself I was mentally ill, although I have and do take responsibility too.
An invisible addiction/disorder
That is the worst part about gambling disorder, you cannot see the affects as in outward or physical signs. The person will have become an expert manipulator and a good liar, they will know how to mask what they are going through. They will know how to do awful things to gain money to feed their gambling demons. As many people who go through any type of addiction, when the individual feels they are ready to open up, they will.
My husband did not really start to suspect anything until a year into my gambling, although he knew something was not right. I call him a ‘human lie detector’ it is almost impossible to get anything past him. As well as my husband, I was lying to my mum, dad and other family members to borrow money for gambling. I pawned jewellery that held sentimental value, I never committed crime to fund gambling but that is not because of choice more the fact my mum would never see me without, and I used that to my full advantage.
Suicidal thoughts and ideas
Unfortunately, the rate of gambling related suicides is 250-650 per year in the Uk which is equivalent to 4-11%. People who are suffering with an addiction to gambling are 15% more likely to try to take their lives than other addictions, and at least 2 suicide are related to gambling disorder per day in the U.K. The thing that makes these statistics so heart breaking is that people do not realise they can overcome gambling disorder.
At my lowest point, I was having suicidal thoughts and often felt that my family would be happier without me around. Again, the thoughts of self-loathing and guilt were sometimes too much to bear. That’s where the self-harm became a regular occurrence. I felt as if I was taking back some control over my life, I could not control the gambling or the strain it took on my mental health, but I could control the physical pain.
A news report on channel 5 today reported a new study found over 54% of 17-year-olds have gambled in the past year, with it increasing to 64% of 20-year-olds gambling in the past year. The increase of advertising and accessibility to online gambling is having a detrimental effect on individuals, and their loved ones too. It is believed that for every disordered gambler there are up to 8 affected others.
Seeking support for gambling disorder
What support is out there for individuals who have a gambling disorder?
I wish I could say that the support is out there and that you can go to your GP and be given a clear treatment pathway, this is not the case. Unfortunately, the more known treatment providers are gambling industry funded. It begs the question “how can you treat a person whose problem comes directly from the industry that fund you?”
I had an encounter during the early weeks of my recovery, I had a blood test and the nurse asked me about my mental health. I explained I had recently gone through a gambling addiction, that I was in recovery and her response shocked me! Her reply was “so you’re behaving yourself then?”. I know she didn’t mean any harm, but it made me think that if I wasn’t happy within my recovery at that moment or was in active addiction and was looking for some support, I would have walked out and kept quiet about my gambling problems! Gambling disorder makes you feel like nobody will understand because of the message “when the fun stops, stop” and that comment by somebody in a position of trust would’ve backed up my thoughts of being ‘stupid’ or guilt or shame of my behaviour. Unfortunately, when I posted on Twitter about the conversation, I found I was not the only person who had experienced this.
- @NoMoreGambling8 responded with “One & only time I’ve ever mentioned gambling addiction to my GP his response was ‘I have never really understood gambling. Can’t you just stop?’ I walked out and have not seen him since.
- @nobet364 said ‘when a friend had stopped some anti-depressants the doctor said, ‘this does not mean you can start gambling again’.
Minimal research has been conducted for stigma against gambling addiction. Despite the major interference to help-seeking and recovery. A study on 44 people who had experienced gambling addiction and the related harm, revealed that problem gambling attracted acute public stigma. It was also shown that publicly, gambling addiction was seen as a personal failure rather than a mental illness. The participants were concerned about being viewed as having a gambling addiction/disorder because of the fear of demeaning stereotypes, social rejection, hostile responses and devaluing attitudes. They also showed they internalised perceived stigma as self-stigma with results including, low-self-esteem, low perceived social worth and mental/physical effects. Deep shame was a prominent universal emotion, which were made worse by relapses when they occurred. Secrecy was the main coping mechanism, with perceived self-stigma acting as major barrier to disclosure and treatment.
The Betting and Gaming Council (the gambling industry body) likes to promote ‘responsible gambling’ or their rebranded ‘safe gambling’ and ‘When the FUN stops, stop!’ message. The messages are nonsense, in fact they are dangerous in my opinion. The message puts the complete responsibility on the individual, and away from the operators and the BGC. Although a disordered gambler will undoubtedly have to take responsibility to an extent, the gambling industry must start to do the same. The gambling operators do not adhere to the regulations set out to protect customers, they do not use the tools that are there to flag a person if they suddenly start to display erratic behaviour. The online slot games are addictive by design, some of the graphics on slot games of childhood Favorites, their theme tunes are also composed in such a way, they lull the user into a relaxed and comfortable state. The spin speeds easy to push over, and over again.
The messages posted on Twitter by Betting and Gaming Counsel are as follows……..
‘If you are worried about your gambling activity there are steps you can take to help you stay in control. Set limits, do not chase losses and do not gamble if you feel angry or anxious. You can also self-exclude or speak to the national gambling helpline’.
The message above puts the sole duty on the individual who is gambling, the reality is the operators have the data to identify when an individual’s gambling is problematic. The operators have the tools to stop accounts being used or to intervene, they just don’t.
Hopefully with the upcoming gambling act review, there may be changes that protect consumers more, properly regulate the operators and make sure gambling harm is minimal. Michael Dugher the Chief Executive Officer of the betting, gaming council or BGC has recently mocked a recovering gambling addict by calling him “roulette boy” and continuously rants on social media so I will not hold my breath……watch this space!
Thank you for reading,
Jade Vallis @jade_vallis