While help with gambling issues requires some specialist input, this varying according to the needs of each individual, it’s also the case that for many in recovery a wider community exists. Whether you have problems with depression, gambling, alcohol, or any of the hardships we all face or may face, whatever we face we may find support in wider communities. We’ll look at this a little below.
First, though, we need to state the fact that gambling as a pervasive issue is not sufficiently recognised, although there are promising signs of change.
Recovery Movements and Gambling
There are community based services which highlight gambling as an area they support. Aquarius in the English midlands, for example, has gambling upfront with drugs and alcohol and drugs on its website and in its mission statement. In Scotland, the RCA Trust similarly headlines gambling support in its services (for Renfrew and across Scotland, excluding Glasgow and Edinburgh).
Recently, we were delighted when Jardine Simpson, CEO of the Scottish Recovery Consortium, spoke at the Glasgow Gambling Summit to commit to developing work around gambling which will centre upon the voices of lived experience.
We (Gambling Watch Scotland) have contacted some organisations, more or less at random, to ask about their services’ work with gambling, for instance what priority it receives, and what promotion to potential users it has. Encouragingly, the general response is that awareness is growing, and provision is growing. Highlighting gambling, for instance on websites or promotional material, seems to stem from ignoring the issue in the past and the ongoing lack of capacity and resources in third sector organisations.
There have been community resources which treat all addictions as the same, and which offer recovery support. For instance, in Liverpool Art and Soul was a primarily arts-based resource which involved people with staging theatre, making films, playing football, cooking, writing, reading, photography, allotment, local history, music making, hill walking computer training. Individual-centred support was able to refer people to specific partner agencies. The physical location was a drop-in building with kitchen. People with whatever ‘addictions’, often with other mental health issues, were able to meet and chat. It closed after commissioners deemed it ‘ineffective’ in monetary terms.
Such an example is one of many thousands of similar activity-centred and community-based resources exist, invariably run by people with lived experience, often created by people with lived experience.
‘Addiction’ IS a ‘Mental Health’ Issue. Not something to be tagged on.
There are experts who probably know why there is a division between ‘mental health’ and ‘addiction’. To a mere layperson it sees odd that since addiction is such a widespread cause of misery which ripples from an individual to affect so many more, that it should not receive the attention it deserves when we consider that cosy phrase ‘well-being’. Being well involves being healthy and flourishing. Millions suffer dreadful ill-being because of ‘addiction’ which, of course, inevitably comes with words fully accepted into the respectable vocabulary of ‘mental health’ such as depression, anxiety, suicide.
Anyway, returning from this tangent, the point is that recovery, discovery or whatever you want to call it is so often enhanced in active community involvement. ‘Proper’ evidence supports what ordinary people know, for instance, that volunteering, ‘going out’ into the community helps us feel well. ‘Going out’ is such a relief from those states where we are ever-fixed on ‘going in’ to personal suffering, rumination and isolation. ‘Recovery’ organisations themselves, of course, within their own networks and activities allow for this going out, sharing, consoling, having a purpose bigger than oneself and so forth. It works. It makes us feel better. Community food growing, art activities, political activism, hill walking with others, the list is endless. It doesn’t matter whether you’re labelled this or that – addict or bipolar, ex-con or prison warden – being with others (which is what ‘conversation’ means), sharing pains (which is what ‘compassion’ means) and sharing a common purpose or goal (which is what ‘community’ means), are crucial to our feeling well or feeling better.
This is not to offer a ‘miracle cure’ for anybody. Life is messy. Miracle cures are things that are sold for profit or power. It’s a fact of life that when we become involved with other people, no matter how ‘noble’ the goal, problems arise. Joining a rambling group won’t eliminate all your problems, nor will ‘getting out into nature’. Make a community film together and you’ll often come near to blows! That is life. Just watch the most highly professional football teams screaming at each other when things go wrong! There are no perfect teams or perfect anything.
But that doesn’t detract from the idea that we really do need to look at the great power of community, and give it the attention it deserves and requires. It needs much more funding and, as importantly, support and encouragement from better resourced third sector and statutory organisations which have expertise and capacity.
Just as importantly everybody needs the best individual support appropriate to alleviating and reducing distress arising from health and other life contexts. Professional and skilled workers in health, social care, law, education. Pills are not a complete answer but they may help. Citizens Advice can’t make you rich but they can remove much of the stress of debt. The Samaritan, the peer-support volunteer on the over end of the phone. The recovery café. The church, the mens shed, the user-led depression support group. The list is endless. Not magic wands, just realistic pointers to how we get and give support. Sometimes it is as simple as a kind neighbour. It’s important that we never take our eyes from where much of the best quality action really is.