Research Blog: Tips for supporting a person to change their gambling problems

In this blog post, Dr. Kathy Bond writes about the article she and her colleagues from Mental Health First Aid Australia published in BioMed Central Psychology.

What does Mental Health First Aid Australia do?

Whilst people often know a lot about common physical health problems, ignorance of mental health is prevalent. Regular first aid courses are widespread, however most of these courses do not address helping with mental health problems. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training aims to fill this gap.

What was the aim of the study?

Kathy Bond, PhD

Kathy Bond, PhD

Gambling is an enjoyable recreational pursuit for many people. However, for some it can lead to significant problems for the individual and their family, including financial and legal problems, relationship and family stress, and psychological distress.

To inform people how to best help a person with a gambling problem, new guidelines have been developed by researchers from Mental Health First Aid Australia and the University of Melbourne. The Delphi process was used, a research method that determines the consensus of groups of experts in the area of study. To develop these guidelines the researchers used two groups of experts. One group comprised people with personal experience of gambling problems in themselves or others close to them (lived experience) and the second group comprised mental health professionals with experience working with people with gambling problems and gambling researchers. To find out more about the methodology you can read the peer reviewed, open-access article.

What can family members dealing with a gambler learn from this study?

Gambling problems are defined as gambling activities where the person struggles to limit the amount of money or time spent on gambling. However, these defining characteristics may not be obvious, often making gambling problems hidden from family members and friends of the gambler. While the signs of gambling problems remain unrecognized, there is limited possibility of support and encouragement from others.

If you suspect that someone you know has gambling problems, it is important to support them because there can be significant negative consequences, including relationship breakdown, financial problems, criminal sanctions, loss of employment, family violence, and mental health problems, including suicide.

When talking to the person about their gambling problems, talk to them in a calm and rational manner. First state some positive things about the person and your relationship with them. It is important to talk about what behaviors you have noticed, rather than to focus on the person themselves as the problem. Other suggestions include:

  • Using ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements, e.g. “I feel worried when I don’t know when you are coming home or how much money you will have spent” rather than “You upset me when you are late and have spent all our money.”
  • Making suggestions rather than telling the person what to do, e.g. “Would you be comfortable seeing a gambling counsellor?” rather than “You should see a gambling counsellor.”
  • Asking the person for their perspective, while validating their experience and feelings, e.g. “I understand that gambling is important to you.”
  • Giving the person enough time to tell their story, because this will help them to open up and trust you.

Familiarize yourself with the effective treatments and local resources available for gambling problems and encourage the person to seek the type of help that is most appropriate for them.

You can find a list of warning signs that someone may have gambling problems and additional practical information and tips on how to support a person with gambling problems in Helping someone with gambling problems: Mental health first aid guidelines.

Other information that can be found in the guidelines includes:

  • Approaching someone about their gambling. This section provides communication suggestions for how to bring up and talk about gambling problems in a non-judgmental way and includes the following sub-sections:
    • How to talk to the person
    • Dealing with negative reactions
  • Encouraging professional help. This section includes information about professional help and how to encourage a person to seek help.
  • Encouraging the person to change. This section provides information about setting healthy boundaries with the person and practical suggestions for encouraging the person to change.
  • If the person does not want to change. This section provides information about helping the person when they are unaware or in denial about their gambling problems.
  • Supporting the person to change. This section includes a list of strategies that the person can use to change their gambling and includes information about supporting the person through relapse.
  • What to do if you are concerned for the safety of the person or others. This section provides information about what to do if the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviours, or where the first aider may be concerned for the safety of others, including the person’s children or partner, or the first aider themselves.

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  1. Billi R, Stone C, Marden P, Yeung K. The Victorian Gambling Study: A longitudinal study of gambling and health in Victoria, 2008–2012. Melbourne: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation; 2014.
  2. Dowling NA, Rodda SN, Lubman DI, Jackson AC. The impacts of problem gambling on concerned significant others accessing web-based counselling. Addict Behav. 2014;39(8):1253–7. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.04.011.
  3. Maccallum F, Blaszczynski A. Pathological gambling and suicidality: an analysis of severity and lethality. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2003;33(1):88–98. doi:10.1521/suli.
  4. Potenza MN, Steinberg MA, McLaughlin SD, Wu R, Rounsaville BJ, O’Malley SS. Gender-related differences in the characteristics of problem gamblers using a gambling helpline. Am J Psychiatr. 2014;158(9):1500–5. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.158.9.1500.
  5. Neal P, Delfabbro P, O’Neil M. Problem Gambling and Harm: Towards a National Definition. Melbourne: Office of Gaming and Racing, Victorian Government Department of Justice; 2005.

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