NHS Opening Gambling Clinic for Children

The NHS England is opening the first gambling clinic specifically for children and young people, aiming to offer support to addicts aged 13 to 25 years old. There are concerns that the rise of online gaming sites, as well as more targeted adverts, are worsening the problem amongst young people.

Children in uniform walking into a school.

55,000 children in the UK have a gambling problem

According to the UK Gambling Commission, 55,000 children in the UK are classed as having a gambling problem. The same study found that 450,000 children are gambling regularly; that is more than those who have drank alcohol, smoked, or taken drugs.

The Clinics

The new clinics are part of an expansion of support for those with an addiction. Currently, specialist face-to-face help has only been available at a clinic in London which is focused on addicts aged 16 and over. The expansion will start with a new clinic specifically for young people opening in London later this year. This will be followed by fourteen other clinics for adult gamblers opening in the near future as well. The first will be in Leeds over the summer, with others in Manchester and Sunderland.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) will likely be the most common therapy at the clinics. Psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose says that problem gambling is linked to “complex individual and social problems – including stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues such as bipolar disorder.” CBT tries to deal with the behaviours by breaking down some of the common beliefs and attitudes around it. For example, a problem gambler might be encouraged to set realistic spending limits for themselves and to change their perception of gambling from a means of making money to a form of entertainment.

While CBT is a popular type of therapy, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that there have not been enough large studies yet to be sure how it compares to other treatments.

Is It Enough?

The NHS England Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, has said: “This action shows just how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction, even in young people. The links between problem gambling and stress, depression and mental health problems are growing and there are too many stories of lives lost and families destroyed.” However, Stevens also pointed out that while the gambling industry spends £1.5billion on marketing and advertising, it spends just a fraction of that on helping those who have an addiction to gambling. Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, also thinks that the gambling operators should be doing more to help those who are in trouble due to their products. She said:

“For too long the industry has dismissed problem gambling but now is the time for polluters to pay. This move to help young people afflicted with this problem is welcome. But the industry really needs to be chastised for their open and blatant exploitation of gambling addicts of all ages.”

Liz Ritchie from the charity Gambling with Lives said that the organisation applauded the expansion but also that the plans were not enough to deal with the problem. Her statement said: “We are on the brink of an epidemic fuelled by industrialised gambling and addicts are 15 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Increased voluntary contributions proposed by some gambling companies will not provide the sustained independent funding needed by the NHS. People are dying – bereaved families call on the government to introduce a mandatory levy on the industry’s £14.5bn profits a year.

Grose also believes that while the clinics are a positive step, they are not enough: “It’s all very sensible and is surely a helpful starting point. But it fails to address the unscrupulousness of an industry that targets children by normalising risky practices, couching bets in kid-friendly video games or the deeper mental processes that might lead a person to take serious risks with their own or their family’s money and possessions.”

Educating Children

While the clinics are a great start, many people feel that part of the problem is the lack of education that children and young people receive about the dangers of gambling. Mike Kenwood, director of development at GamCare charity, believes that this would make a difference: “In school you would have been more likely to receive education and awareness sessions around things like drugs and alcohol, safe sex, healthy eating in PSHE [Personal, Social, Health and Economic education] lessons. There is a broader agenda which address all those things, but gambling is missing from it.”

Last year, 650 teenagers took part in trial lessons designed to raise awareness of the risks of gambling among school-age children. The lessons were developed by thinktank Demos and were meant to encourage pupils to weigh up risks, identify manipulative behaviour by gambling companies, learn about managing impulses, and help others experiencing gambling problems.

Catherine, a year 11 student at St Joseph’s Catholic School who took part, said that she felt that the risks of gambling should be more widely publicised, as they are with smoking. “People that smoke know it’s a danger. It’s on the packet. It says that it kills. It’s not disguised. It’s quite obvious. […] You never see on a lottery ticket saying, ‘This could lead to poverty.’

The trial lessons seemed to have a positive impact on the pupils who took part. One student remarked, “It was very helpful because it prepared us for later life and the possibility of it happening in our lives or in our families’ lives and help us deal with it and stop it happening.” Another said, “The gambling module didn’t control the pupils’ opinions on the subject, it allowed the pupils to form their own ideas rather than have the teacher tell them how it is.”

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