Gambling addiction ‘a serious public health issue’ in Northern Ireland

Gambling must be taken seriously as a public health issue the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, has said.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 6:00 am
Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE said gambling addiction needs to be acknowledged as a mental illness

The call comes as plans were announced to deliver the first significant shake-up of gambling laws here for more than 35 years.

According to a prevalence study published in 2017, Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of gambling in the UK at more than 67 per cent compared to more than 61 per cent in Wales and 62 per cent in England.

For those addicted to gambling – it can lead to depression, anxiety disorders and other serious mental health conditions. But treatment options to prevent gambling addictions in Northern Ireland are limited.

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Now, the College is calling on the Department of Health and Department of Communities to work together to ensure there is a public health approach to gambling. It said services should also be developed to support those with this type of addiction. The request comes in response to Department for Communities consultation on changes to gambling legislation.

Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE, consultant psychiatrist and spokesperson on behavioural addictions for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of gambling in the UK so it’s concerning that there are still no specific services in place for those in need of treatment for gambling disorder.

“The consultation has looked at extra opening times and new technology but there has been little consideration of gambling as a public health issue.

“Gambling disorder has a devastating impact on individuals and families. People feel trapped and sometimes their gambling can get out of control leading to severe mental illness as well as suicidal thinking.

“We need to acknowledge gambling disorder as a mental illness and treat it accordingly, in an evidence-based way within an NHS setting. There will be thousands of people out there in urgent need of help. We must do all we can to provide them with the treatment they deserve.”

Fermanagh man Peter Keogh, whose son Lewis, 34, took his own life in 2013 after his addiction to gambling welcomed the statement from the College.

He said: “We need a dedicated treatment for gambling addiction here in Northern Ireland. It (gambling addiction) is a mental health issue and people who have a problem with it must be looked upon as people who are ill.”

*Read the full interview with Peter Keogh in Saturday’s edition of the News Letter.