Gambling and Mental Health


Gambling is an activity where a person places a bet on something of value, with the conscious acceptance of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest or an uncertain event. Examples include betting on a horse race, football match or lottery ticket. It’s often a form of entertainment and can be seen in films such as Ocean’s Twelve, where gamblers are shown enjoying themselves in glitzy casinos, but gambling is not a cure for mental health problems, and can actually make things worse.

People have been gambling since the beginning of time, but it’s difficult to stop because human beings love taking risks and want to win. This is particularly true of financial gambles, which involve putting something that you value on the line. Whether it’s money, relationships or your reputation, the stakes are high and the rush can be instant.

The concept of gambling is a broad one and can be applied to many different activities that involve putting something at risk, such as buying or selling shares, investing in property or borrowing money to buy goods or services. Some forms of gambling are more dangerous than others, but in general all can have negative consequences.

In the UK, more than a million people have a problem with gambling. Some are addicted to it and need help. There are many ways to get support. You can talk to a counsellor who will listen and give you advice. You can also join a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous. You can try to overcome your urge to gamble by doing other activities or taking time out. You can even exercise, as this has been shown to help.

The research for this report began with a series of focus groups and semi-structured interviews with people who had experienced harm related to their own or someone else’s gambling. A key theme that emerged was that harms were often experienced in a continuum, from mild to severe, with each level having different aspects of impact and significance. The definition of harm that was developed reflects this, and is designed to be operationalised in a way that allows for future measurement consistent with public health approaches to gambling-related harm. The definition also incorporates ‘legacy harms’ which are those harms that continue to be experienced after a person’s engagement with gambling has ended. This is important as it allows for the inclusion of those affected by gambling who do not engage in behaviour that causes them to experience harm. This includes those who work in the gambling industry and those who use gambling-related treatment and support services. The definition also allows for the inclusion of comorbidities, which may be present in people who are experiencing gambling-related harm.