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With the sights and sounds of Christmas all around us, it is easy to see Christmas as a time of joy and happiness for everyone.
But Victoria’s largest gamblers’ support service, Gambler’s Help Southern, warns that for many in our community, the festive season can be lonely and isolating, stirring feelings of sadness and loss, and driving many to harmful behaviours like gambling.
CEO of Connect Health & Community which runs Gambler’s Help Southern, Amanda Murphy, said this Christmas we should keep an eye out for those in our community who might be on their own and at risk of gambling harm.
“Anyone in the community can run into trouble. You don’t need to be a certain age, gender or personality type,” she said.
“Research shows loneliness and social isolation can be risk factors for problem gambling, with people using it as an escape – escaping an empty home, their emotions and feelings of sadness or loss,” she said. “We know loneliness can occur at any time of year but the lead up to Christmas can heighten feelings of loneliness for many”.
Ms Murphy said communities with higher populations of seniors, empty-nesters and retirees, with a higher percentage of lone-person households, can be at greater risk.
“By coming together as a community and supporting each other - our families, friends, colleagues and neighbours, we can reduce gambling harm in our community,” she said.
One Melbournian who knows the pressure all too well is Carolyn. In 2016, at the age of 64, Carolyn was sentenced to 18 months in prison for taking money from her employer to pay for her gambling addiction.
“I started gambling regularly in my 50’s, at first it was to spend time with a friend and we enjoyed going out after work for dinner and then play the pokies. But I was soon going by myself with the excuse of using the pokies to relax. When I was feeling stressed or lonely I would take myself off and sit and play all day,” she said.
“I knew it was getting out of hand when I started taking money from the company where I worked. Over seven years I stole more than $400,000 of the company’s money and I have no idea how much of my own money I wasted,” she said.
Carolyn said that it was not until she was in prison that she received the help she needed to stop gambling.
“The counselling and support made me realise that I was not alone. I haven’t gambled since
2015 and I’m proud of how far I have come,” she said. Carolyn now dedicates her time to raising awareness in the community about gambling harm as a community educator with ReSPIN, a gambling awareness speaker’s bureau.
Ms Murphy said Carolyn’s story is sadly not an isolated incident.
“Every year, more than half a million Victorians experience some form of gambling harm. Australians lose more on gambling per person than any other country and the Peninsula is no exception. In 2019, $83.35 million was lost on pokies alone in this region, not including gambling losses on sports betting, racing and other forms of gambling,” she said.
Ms Murphy said that by looking out for each other and building a community connection this Christmas, we can help reduce gambling harm.
“This festive season let’s remember to look out for one another. Not everyone is experiencing Christmas joy and many people in our community are battling loneliness and seeking a way to escape,” she said.
Ms Murphy encouraged people to look in on lonely friends or neighbours, and encouraged those on their own to consider joining activities and groups across in their local area.
“If you are feeling lonely or looking for a way to connect, there are many local volunteer opportunities, community groups and free activities across Melbourne’s south east that provide an alternative to gambling and can help keep you connected,” she said.
People wanting to talk to someone about their gambling, or a loved one’s, can contact Gambler’s Help Southern for free and confidential counselling on 03) 9575 5353.
Gambler’s Help Southern is a program of Connect Health & Community, which has been providing community health services to south eastern Melbourne for more than 40 years.
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