Gambling problems and mental illness frequently occur together. Approximately three quarters of people seeking treatment for a gambling problem also have a mental illness, most commonly a mood disorder such as depression.
At the same time, only about 22 per cent of people with gambling problems seek help for their gambling. Gambling problems exacerbate vulnerabilities already experienced by compounding psychological distress, social isolation and suicide risk amongst people experiencing mental health difficulties. However, people with gambling problems may seek help for a mental illness, without their gambling problems being recognised. Previous research suggests there may be high rates of gambling problems in people seeking treatment for a mental illness, but this has not been explored in an Australian context or in a large sample of patients.
Researchers from Turning Point and Monash University recently conducted a study looking at clinicians’/support workers’ experience of problem gambling amongst peoples presenting for mental health issues. Staff and consumers from Neami National participated in this study.
This project explored the level of gambling harm experienced by people seeking treatment for mental illness and the attitudes and behaviours of clinicians in mental health services. The study also tested a variety of screens for problem gambling, to determine a recommended screen for use in mental health settings. The aims of the project were to:
Examine the ways in which clinicians currently respond to problem gambling in Victorian mental health settings
Examine the gambling behaviours of patients attending Victorian mental health services to determine the prevalence of gambling harm and explore its relationship with other psychiatric disorders
Explore suitable problem gambling screening instruments and service responses within Victorian mental health settings.
The study comprised of:
a comprehensive literature review
a workforce survey and interviews with clinicians
a survey of patients attending mental health services
an assessment of problem gambling screening tools.
The findings of this study indicate that a brief screening tool would be effective in supporting earlier identification of problem gambling within mental health patients, and could easily be added to existing intake processes.
Comprehensive training in assessing and managing gambling harm, as well as improved cross-sector partnerships and referral pathways would also help ensure patients with mental health and gambling issues receive timely and appropriate treatment.
The report also recommends further research in determining rates and patterns of gambling harm across a greater range of mental health settings, and understanding why this group is at such risk and the most effective strategies to minimise harm