There is a “significant link” between higher rates of gambling harm and worsening mental health, according to a new study published by UK charity GambleAware.
The study published on August 11 was undertaken by consultancy firm Alma Economics, using data collected at three different times in November 2020, 2021 and 2022 from GambleAware’s Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey, run by YouGov.
A one-unit increase in problem gambling severity index (PGSI) score, which is the measure of at-risk behaviour in problem gambling, increases the probability of someone having a diagnosed mental health condition by 3 percent, according to the study.
This means an individual with a PGSI score of 0 has a 22 percent probability of having a mental health diagnosis, while an individual with a PGSI score of 8 has a 41 percent probability of having a mental health condition.
Researchers also found that 47 percent of people experiencing the most serious gambling harms (classified as PGSI 8+) are likely to have a severe mental health disorder such as feeling depressed, compared with 16 percent of people who do not gamble.
GambleAware chief executive Zoë Osmond said the findings suggest gambling harms not only affect the individual but also the mental health of those around them.
"Practitioners and support groups should encourage and provide mental health support for affected others as well," she said.
Osmond explained that understanding the relationship between gambling and mental health is important for medical practitioners and gambling support organisations, as it can "influence the type of treatment and support that is best suited for each individual”.
“Depending on the underlying mental health condition, different types of support may be necessary to help those who use gambling as a form of self-harm or a calming mechanism,” Osmond said.
Alma Economics managing director Nick Spyropoulos claimed research into the links between gambling harms and mental health “has not been done in this depth”.
Spyropoulos reiterated that this research can “help us learn more about the link between gambling harms and poor mental health and what can be done to help people receive the support they need going forward”.
The study also found that “the relationship between mental health and gambling runs both ways, where poor mental health can encourage more and riskier gambling, while harmful gambling can also impact individuals’ mental health”.
However, researchers said it is difficult to isolate the impact of one on the other to examine causality in more detail.
People at risk of gambling harm, classified as being in the PGSI 1+ category, are also four times more likely than non-gamblers to experience suicidal thoughts (26 percent versus 6 percent), the research said.
People who are classified as PGSI 8+ were found to make up about 2.7 percent of the total population but account for an estimated 26 percent of those with an anger disorder and 15 percent of those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
GambleAware will be commissioning more research in the future to try and find out more about the connection between poor mental health and riskier gambling.
The study states that further analysis can be done to establish links between specific gambling habits and behaviours and specific mental health conditions, as the findings suggest that ADHD and gambling have a significant relationship.
Information for the study was collected in two phases.
The first phase included a desk-based review of evidence on gambling harms and mental health, and a review of literature on individuals who have been negatively affected by someone else’s gambling, known as affected others.
In phase two, researchers conducted three different types of quantitative analysis, including descriptive analysis, correlation analysis and regression analysis.
Limitations of the analysis included an inability to compare some variables across waves due to changes in the questionnaire.
Additionally, they “cannot determine if mental health issues cause problematic gambling behaviours or vice versa”, noting that relationships they observed “could be due to other confounding variables that we cannot observe”.