Edition #5: Telling our stories

Two men are sitting on stairs looking at each other. One has his hand on the other's shoulder in support
Two men are sitting on stairs looking at each other. One has his hand on the other's shoulder in support
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Knowledgeably speaking

The stigma of gambling harm and how we can reduce it

Two recent reports funded through the foundation’s Grants for Gambling Research Program highlight the role of stigma in problem gambling and how it may be reduced.

What Victorians think of serious gambling problems

In December 2015 Inside gambling featured the report The stigma of problem gambling: causes, characteristics and consequences. Led by Professor Nerilee Hing, this study highlights the conflicting nature of how Victorians view people with gambling problems and the role of stigma within this.

Around 96 per cent of Victorians believe problem gambling to be an addiction, just over half describe it as a diagnosable condition, and around a third consider it a mental health condition. However, many also consider people who experience problems from their gambling as impulsive, foolish, greedy or irrational.

Similarly, although many Victorians are willing to socialise with people with gambling problems in incidental ways, they are generally reluctant to form more ongoing relationships with them. This suggests many of us have unspoken social caveats on our involvement with people experiencing problems with their gambling. The April edition of Inside gambling represented some of these in graphic form in Would you marry Dan?

This suggests many of us have unspoken social caveats on our involvement with people experiencing problems with their gambling.

Compared to other conditions, Victorians feel problem gambling has more stigma attached to it than sub-clinical gambling or distress, but less than for alcohol misuse or schizophrenia. With the exception of alcohol misuse, they are more likely to attribute problem gambling to individual characteristics, such as having a bad character or upbringing.

So while Victorians might not attach as much stigma to problem gambling as to other conditions, the stigma associated with it is likely to be rooted in perceptions of personal responsibility.

In contrast, people who have experienced problem gambling attach much more stigma to their condition, believing it to be more publicly stigmatised than alcoholism, obesity, schizophrenia, depression, cancer, bankruptcy and recreational gambling. This highlights that stigma is created and maintained by the beliefs of both the broader community and people who have experienced problems from their gambling.

Given these complexities, how do we reduce the stigma of problem gambling? Recent research exploring initiatives aiming to reduce stigma can provide some answers.

How stigma has been tackled in other areas of health

The study Lessons for the development of initiatives to tackle the stigma associated with problem gambling examines the effectiveness of anti-stigma initiatives in the areas of mental health, HIV/AIDS and gambling.

Associate Professor Samantha Thomas and her team sought understand the different appeal strategies used, with a view to informing future anti-stigma initiatives for problem gambling.

While mental health campaigns typically used personal stories, gambling campaigns often featured more confronting approaches focused on individual responsibility. They tended to concentrate on raising awareness and encouraging people to seek help, emphasising individual actions, controls and responsibilities.

Gambling campaigns often featured more confronting approaches focused on individual responsibility.

In comparison, mental health campaigns tended to highlight the causes of mental health conditions and the impact of stigma and discrimination, encouraging discussions about mental health.

Interviews with experts who have worked on anti-stigma initiatives confirmed the importance of drawing on successes in other areas, such as mental health, to reduce stigma.

Interviewees recommended shifting the focus from ‘personal responsibility’ to harm reduction. They suggested that, as well as promoting help-seeking, campaigns should raise awareness about the multiple factors that contribute to gambling harm. This would encourage a more compassionate approach to those who experience it.

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