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Gambling counsellor warns of ‘perfect storm’ amid coronavirus lockdown

PUBLISHED: 06:30 27 April 2020

Norwich-based Breakeven counsellor Gill Stewart said that the coronavirus lockdown has created a 'perfect storm' for problem gamblers. Picture: Gill Stewart/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Norwich-based Breakeven counsellor Gill Stewart said that the coronavirus lockdown has created a 'perfect storm' for problem gamblers. Picture: Gill Stewart/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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A counsellor from Norwich who works with problem gamblers has said she expects to see an increase in the number of people using services like hers amid a “perfect storm” of triggers during the coronavirus lockdown.

One of the Breakeven rooms in Norwich where counselling sessions are usually held, but the coronavirus lockdown has meant that all sessions now how to take place over video chat or over the phone. Picture: Gill StewartOne of the Breakeven rooms in Norwich where counselling sessions are usually held, but the coronavirus lockdown has meant that all sessions now how to take place over video chat or over the phone. Picture: Gill Stewart

Gill Stewart, from gambling treatment service Breakeven, works with clients to help them control betting addictions with free counselling sessions, supporting them and their families throughout their recovery.

While face-to-face sessions have been curtailed amid social distancing measures, she and her colleagues are still offering remote sessions through video chats or over the phone – which are still being used despite some logistical difficulties.

“Where we thought we’d see a drop off in terms of clients being able to attend sessions, we’ve had a really high take-up of people willing to speak over some sort of video call or just a phone call – that’s really pleasing to see,” she said.

However, she also warned that Breakeven is preparing for an extra influx of clients due to a “perfect storm” created by the current situation surrounding Covid-19.

Gill Stewart is a Norwich-based counsellor for problem gambling charity Breakeven, Picture: Gill StewartGill Stewart is a Norwich-based counsellor for problem gambling charity Breakeven, Picture: Gill Stewart

She said: “There are three things that tend to lead people to problem gambling – boredom, financial constraint and also isolation. We’re in a bit of a perfect storm at the moment because all those things are very, very apparent.

“What we are anticipating is a bigger spike of clients coming through to us as this progresses because of those three things that are coming together now.

“There has also been a big spike in people trying to unblock themselves from online sites where they’ve been blocked in the past. You can exclude yourself online for up to five years, so if somebody has done that and then all of a sudden they now want to think about betting again online, they can’t unblock themselves.

“That’s where we’ve seen a big spike of people trying to do that unblocking, but they can’t do it which is a good thing.”

Problem gambling charity Breakeven are a partner of national organisation GamCare. Picture: Gill StewartProblem gambling charity Breakeven are a partner of national organisation GamCare. Picture: Gill Stewart

Mrs Stewart’s warning comes as the first major survey of UK betting habits during the coronavirus crisis found regular gamblers are doing so more often during the lockdown.

A Survation poll of more than 1,000 people saw more people say they had reduced their gambling since the beginning of the outbreak as sporting events such as football matches and horse racing meets – regular favourites of betters – have been cancelled.

But 64pc of those who gamble more regularly said they were doing so just as frequently or more often as they turn to more risky options such as casino games offered by online sites.

Mrs Stewart stressed that, although some people are gambling more regularly, the lockdown situation has had precisely the opposite effect on some of her clients.

“I think there’s a mix. For some people it’s almost like ‘the world is working with me – I decided I wanted to stop gambling and all of sudden I can’t go into a betting shop anymore, so all this is now helping me’.

“So for some people it’s beneficial, but for some it’s the reverse effect – because they’ve got so much time on their hands, there’s so much boredom and also financial implications, they’re turning back to those known behaviours and then triggering those thoughts.”

These changes in habits have meant that, beyond the use of technology to hold sessions, counsellors have had to adapt the way they go about their work to tailor their support to needs brought about by the coronavirus crisis.

“A lot of it has been more around supporting people through managing this change. It’s not so much around the actual gambling, but more around dealing with the situation.

“Although they might be coming in about predominantly gambling, it’s more about ‘I don’t know how to cope with this situation, I don’t know how to get into a routine, I’m worried about debt, I’m worried about finances’.

“All those things are triggers for gambling, but they are also triggered by our current situation, so a lot more time in a session is spent on managing people in this current situation.”

Breakeven offers up to 12 counselling sessions without charge for people struggling with problem gambling, and also offer free sessions to “affected others” to help family and friends support them through difficult times.

Mrs Stewart said: “Be brave, pick up the phone and get in touch with us. It’s the first step in changing your future life and making that recovery.”

If you need help with problem gambling, or are worried about someone you know, call Breakeven on 01273 833722 or visit www.breakeven.org.uk.


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