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Problem gambler? Talk to someone who's been there

Opinion

Out of control gambling sent Ann Lawrence’s life into chaos, undermining her mental health. She writes about her journey from problem gambler to a senior member of a team supporting people hooked on the pokies.

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My relationship with poker machines started after my marriage breakup, which was the catalyst that sent my life into chaos.

I developed several serious mental health issues and I started drinking to cope. I was spending time in pubs and soon drifted across to the pokies where I found considerable excitement and comfort. Before long, I was hooked.

My health, my relationships and my entire life were compromised by my involvement with pokies. After many crises, including several suicide attempts, I eventually sought help from a counsellor at a gambling service.

Drinking and gambling had undermined my recovery from my mental health issues for a long time. My counsellor supported me holistically and helped me to unpack the issues that were driving my behaviours. It took a long time, but I slowly came to believe in myself, to move away from the shame and guilt that surrounded my drinking and gambling. It led me back to a values base, which is important to me, and it has restored my self-worth and self-respect.

Through education and understanding of my own experiences, I developed the necessary skills to support others going through similar situations.

One of the biggest barriers to people seeking help is the stigma that surrounds gambling. We know that only 3-15% of people who experience harm from their gambling actually approach services for help.

Stereotypical community views of people with gambling issues are usually very negative and this contributes to people’s isolation and feelings of shame. In 2014, Relationships Australia SA (RASA) established the peer support service as an adjunct to the gambling help services it provides to anyone adversely affected by their own or a loved one’s gambling activity.

Having my own lived experience of gambling and mental health issues, and valuable employment experience in the mental health field, I took on the role of senior peer support worker. Peer support is another option in the suite of services available to gamblers. As one person said: “Hearing from a person who has had the experience makes all the difference.”

In my role, I offer people the opportunity to talk with someone who has experienced devastating consequences because of their problematic relationship with gambling … and recovered. People often say they feel ‘real connection’ because they realise they are not alone.

One client commented: “Meeting someone that’s walked in my shoes and has recovered and is still, you know, around it, like, they don’t have to be far away from it, that means a lot. She shows me ways to cope and I sort of think, ‘well, Ann’s done it so I can do it too.’”

By sharing what personally happened to me, and the ups and downs of my recovery journey, I can inspire the people I support to continue to work on their challenges and search for a new sense of self and passion in life, whatever that is, to bring fulfilment and connection with the world again.

As another client said: “In a way gambling used to be my social thing. Ann really encouraged safe ways of getting out of the house. Now I go to places that I don’t usually go, and I have more money to buy treats that I wouldn’t usually have bought. That money might otherwise have been spent on the pokies.”

The role of peer worker is not a counselling role, but can be a bridge to counselling for many.

We are here to support people who are affected by gambling. As a community we need to look out for each other because we know that for every person with a gambling problem, five to 10 others are affected.

If you would like to talk to a Peer Support Worker please call (08) 8223 4566 or 1800 182 325 (Country Free Call) to make a telephone or face-to-face appointment.

InDaily is publishing a series of stories to mark Mental Health Week, produced with the cooperation of the Mental Health Coalition of SA.

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