UK Health Department Acknowledges Gambling Suicide Impact

September 12, 2023
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The UK Department of Health & Social Care has said evidence points to links between “harmful gambling” and suicide, highlighting it in the country’s new suicide prevention strategy.
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The UK Department of Health & Social Care (DHCS) has said evidence points to links between “harmful gambling” and suicide, highlighting it in the country’s new suicide prevention strategy.

The "Suicide prevention in England: 5-year cross-sector strategy" policy paper was published on Monday (September 11), updating the government's plan to reduce suicide, noting that the rate has not fallen since 2012.

It states that “there is increasing evidence of the relationship between harmful gambling and suicide, including in younger people".

The evidence refers to the "Gambling-related harms: evidence review".

"Although reasons for suicide can be complex, we do know that gambling can be a dominant factor without which the suicide may not have occurred. Action therefore needs to be taken to address the harms of gambling, including suicide, and reach people at risk," according to the policy paper.

When it comes to protecting people from gambling harms, the paper covers a host of upcoming “milestones”.

These include the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), DHSC and the Gambling Commission working to "strengthen informational messaging, including on risks associated with gambling" and "to work to further strengthen evidence on how to reduce gambling-related harms”.

Later this year, the DCMS will consult on the introduction of a statutory levy paid by operators to fund research, education and treatment of gambling harms, “which will lead to further opportunities to take action”, according to the strategy. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is expected to publish clinical guidelines to support the identification, assessment and management of harmful gambling in the Spring 2024.

The DHSC is also working with the NHS to improve treatment for gambling-related harms, including gambling-related suicides, with recommendations for improvements expected in 2023.

Giving evidence to a DMCS committee on September 6, minister for gambling Stuart Andrew said: “In terms of the recording of suicides, I do not think that we as a government have actual, definitive information that would say that X number of suicides are a result of gambling harm.

“In some cases that will have been a cause but there will be potentially other reasons as well. That goes back to the point that we need greater research in these areas to understand this important piece of work,” he said.

Charity Gambling with Lives said gambling leads directly to hundreds of suicides a year, according to research and the testimonies of the dozens of families it supports.

Will Prochaska, strategy director of Gambling with Lives, said: “The government’s suicide prevention plan has acknowledged that gambling can kill.

“The government’s planned reforms of gambling regulation should now squarely be viewed as suicide prevention measures, and should therefore give a greater leadership role to the DHSC,” Prochaska said.

An inquest into the death of the founders of the charity’s son concluded in 2022. It found failings by the government to provide information, regulation and treatment for a gambling disorder contributed to his death.

Another inquest in 2023 found that a gambling disorder was a medical cause of the death of Luke Ashton, who died in 2021, the charity said. 

"There are at least three more open inquests exploring the role of gambling in suicides," it added.

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