Arabic Welfare staff chat to community members at their information table at Meadow Heights Education Centre, photo: Paul Jeffers
Lara Jackson knows from personal and professional experience that gambling harm can escalate quickly. The general manager of wellbeing and support at Banyule Community Health says, ‘People are not aware of the extent of harm they might experience, and are often blind to it until life gives them a sharp tap on the shoulder’.
Lara’s words, at the launch on 8 October of Victoria’s first Gambling Harm Awareness Week, embody why we no longer call it Responsible Gambling Awareness Week. The name change reflects a greater focus on reducing and preventing harm, including building community awareness about the early signs of harm, so people can avoid being blindsided by it.
While many people gamble without harm, each year about 550,000 adults in Victoria experience negative consequences from their gambling, which can affect finances, self-esteem, relationships, health, work, study and social life. The impacts can also extend to family members, friends, workmates and others.
Gambling Harm Awareness Week ran from 8–14 October 2018 under the theme: ‘Talk. Share. Support.’ With partners, including community organisations, local government and gambling providers, we encouraged Victorians to talk about the often hidden issue of gambling harm, to understand it better, and to make it okay for people affected to reach out.
Health and wellbeing in local communities
At the launch, three organisations shared the work they are doing to prevent gambling harm in their communities, with support from the Foundation’s Prevention Partnership Program.
Lara Jackson spoke of how Banyule Community Health is producing 16 podcast episodes presented by people with personal experience of gambling harm. She says the series Not a dollar more will ‘expand opportunities for people to informally hear about the impact of gambling’. Firsthand stories of recovery are especially inspiring for people struggling with gambling harm, including those affected by someone else’s gambling.
'People are not aware of the extent of harm they might experience, and are often blind to it until life gives them a sharp tap on the shoulder.'
Lara Jackson, Banyule Community health
In 30 Neighbourhood Houses in Melbourne’s outer east, the ‘Together we do better’ project is raising awareness of gambling harm and providing recreational alternatives to gambling. Cathy Fyffe, project worker with the Community Houses Association of the Outer Eastern Suburbs (CHAOS) says, ‘All neighbourhood houses are different and respond to the unique needs of each community’. As well as training staff and volunteers, the project is funding each house to develop its own activities to increase understanding of gambling harm and address factors that make people vulnerable to it, including social isolation. Activities include a community choir, Friday night social events and family barbeques.
Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS) is also promoting healing and wellbeing through social interaction. Co-designed with Elders and other members of the Mildura, Swan Hill and Kerang Aboriginal communities, the ‘It’s not all about the money’ project is using yarning circles to open up community discussion about gambling. Darlene Thomas, team leader at MDAS, says, ‘Talking about services and issues without judgement and with humour makes people more comfortable to share’. Humour has proven so effective, MDAS is now partnering with Aboriginal comedian Kevin Kropinyeri to deliver safe gambling messages. This included a roadshow during ‘Harm Week’.
In officially launching the week, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Marlene Kairouz said, ‘Talking is the first step to reducing harm in our community’. These projects show how three organisations are encouraging their communities to take this first step.
Talking and sharing across Victoria
More than 50 other community events took place across the state throughout the week.
One event, run by Gambler’s Help partner Arabic Welfare with Meadow Heights Education Centre in Melbourne’s north-west, offered a health and wellbeing forum and mini workshops to members of the Arabic-speaking community. Focusing on self-care as an important part of preventing and reducing gambling harm, activities included massage, nutrition, mindfulness and dance. Local health promotion and support agencies were also there to chat with people about the services they offer.
'Talking is the first step to reducing harm in our community.'
Marlene Kairouz, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation
Arabic Welfare Executive Manager Amal El-Khoury says settling in a new country can make people particularly vulnerable to gambling harm. Gambling might offer a welcome escape from language difficulties, loneliness and, in many cases, grief and trauma from experiences overseas. Australian culture can be very different, and gambling may even be seen as a way to integrate.
Amal relates a pertinent example in the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup. ‘A newly arrived Arabic-speaking refugee told me Australia has a “Saint Horse” because they have a day off to celebrate betting on horses,’ she says. ‘This was his reason for starting gambling.’
How we can work better together
Another event explored the week’s theme in the context of professionals who work with clients across the health and welfare sectors. Experts in research and frontline services in mental health, gambling, and alcohol and other drugs discussed the importance of talking, sharing and supporting each other to provide clients experiencing multiple issues with the best possible services.
The panel discussion ‘Where’s the harm in gambling: exploring gambling comorbidities’ looked at the intersections between gambling harm and other social and health issues. The panellists – Dr Victoria Manning from Turning Point, Anna Muru from Taskforce and Anastasia Sagris-Desmond from Gambler’s Help Southern – agreed it is very common for clients to be dealing with more than one issue. Severe gambling harm often coexists with family violence, poverty and mental health issues, such as alcohol and other drug use disorders, depression, anxiety and impulse control.
It is very common for clients to be dealing with more than one issue.
The panellists discussed ways in which their sectors might improve collaboration to provide clients needing more than one service with holistic support. As well as more cross-sector partnerships and training, a key point of agreement was the need to impress upon decision-makers that joint planning and structured integration across sectors is crucial. The Foundation will be exploring these themes further in a cross-sectoral workshop in November 2018.
In thanking the panellists, the Foundation’s new interim CEO, Janet Dore, described the discussion as ‘powerful, impactful and compelling’. For many of us, this is also an apt description of the week. We hope it has been similarly inspiring for community members as well as our many partners working towards a Victoria free from gambling-related harm.