Whether it’s an eye appointment or a yearly checkup, screening for diseases and physical ailments typically has a spot in the back of every person’s mind, particularly as we get older. However, while physical and mental health are equally important, the latter is not as widely recognized in awareness and prevention measures. People with underlying mental health factors have an increased risk of developing a gambling problem. Someone, for instance, who is depressed and turning to gambling as a way to escape from anxiety or other stressors, this might make them more vulnerable to a gambling problem or gambling for longer than anticipated to or spending more than planned, hence eventually developing a gambling problem. A history of abuse or trauma can also increase the likelihood that someone may be more vulnerable to developing a gambling problem. As we highlight National Depression Screening Day on October 6, we invite you to use this as a chance to discuss the importance of taking care of our mental health with a focus on its relationship to problem gambling.
The Connection between Depression and Problem Gambling
Approximately 40 million US adults struggle with depression or anxiety .This makes depression one of the most prevalent mental health issues in our country, and one that can be closely related to other struggles, including problem gambling.
At the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), our 24-hour confidential, multilingual HelpLine has received countless contacts from Floridians experiencing serious to severe problems in their lives due to a gambling problem in their household. In many cases, depression was the underlying cause of presenting symptoms, with compulsive gambling at the root of their struggles. If these issues go unassessed, unidentified, and untreated, these struggles can remain “hidden” and lead to significant consequences.
Alternatively, mental health issues can also increase the risk of compulsive gambling. For example, gamblers may place excess bets to feel better, escape or distract themselves. It can feel like gambling is helping them cope, even if they are losing more than they are winning. Those struggling with a gambling problem will chase the sensation of winning, no matter the circumstances or negative consequences experienced, because the euphoria of staying in action while gambling can feel magnified when dealing with depression.
The FCCG’s 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine data from the 2021/2022 fiscal year reveals gamblers’ mental health status and domestic difficulties yielding high levels of anxiety (62%), depression (63%), suicidal thoughts (24%), family conflict (60%), family neglect (41%), family violence (5%), and problems at work or school (37%). Among problem gamblers, 39% reported having a family with a history of gambling problems, and over 33% reported a family history of alcohol and/or substance abuse. Loved ones of the problem gambler (i.e., spouse, partner, parent, child, siblings) also suffer from a number of significant mental health issues. Among loved ones, 67% reported anxiety, 49% depression, 87% family conflict, 40% family neglect, 8% family violence, and 20% indicated personal problems at work or school. The prevalence rates for each of these difficulties experienced by loves ones was markedly higher this year compared to last, further supporting the continuing need to help educate mental healthcare professionals about the familial impacts and mental health comorbidities among problem gamblers.
Identifying the Signs of Depression and Problem Gambling
The symptoms or warning signs of problem gambling and depression can be similar, including alienating loved ones, irritability, an inability to concentrate, and skirting responsibilities. With problem gambling, warning signs may also include tolerance, withdrawal, a diminished control when gambling, preoccupation with gambling, gambling to escape, chasing losses, lying, jeopardizing relationships and careers, and seeking financial bailouts. . Depression symptoms can also encompass emotional outbursts, feelings of hopelessness, sleeplessness, and lethargy. Problem gamblers are also at increased risk of suicide, with as many as one in five of compulsive gamblers attempting suicide. In fact, gambling has the highest rate of suicide of all addictions.
Those struggling with gambling problems or depression can have moments when these symptoms are more apparent, and other times when symptoms may subside. During the latter, the person might feel they have overcome the issue or that there isn’t an issue at all, when this isn’t the case. Having access to free, 24/7, confidential, multilingual supports and resources is essential for both problem gamblers and their loved ones and available through the FCCG’s 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine.
Gambling becomes a problem when it is causing negative life impacts. There is oftentimes denial that a problem even exists, despite the experience of multiple negative life consequences. Problem gamblers typically progress through some very clear stages as they sink further into gambling addiction. Because of the non-physical symptoms of a gambling addiction, a gambler may feel even more distressed while undergoing these transitional changes which largely go undetected by others. In fact, even the ones closest to the gambler often do not recognize that there is a problem.
It is imperative to remember that no one can predict who will become a compulsive gambler or who will develop any sort of mental health disorder. We must spread the message that help, hope, and recovery from a gambling disorder are possible when early interventions are used. This Thursday, October 6, 2022, help us increase awareness about National Depression Screening Day, which could be a life-changing moment for you or someone you care about.
If you or someone you know are experiencing difficulties due to problem gambling, start the journey of recovery today by contacting the confidential, multilingual, free, 24/7 Problem Gambling HelpLine at 888-ADMIT-IT (888-236-4848), texting (321-978-0555), emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org), chatting (gamblinghelp.org), or visiting us on social media.
- “Facts & Statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics.
- Davies, Rob. “Problem Gamblers Much More Likely to Attempt Suicide – Study.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 July 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/19/problem-gamblers-much-more-likely-to-attempt-suicide-study.
- Jones, Colleen. “September Is Suicide Prevention Month: Problem Gambling Has Highest Suicide Rates among All Addictions.” The Batavian, 16 Sept. 2020, https://www.thebatavian.com/press-release/september-is-suicide-prevention-month-problem-gambling-has-highest-suicide-rates-among.