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Problem gamblers waiting too long to seek help


Monday, October 6th, 2008

Problem gamblers waiting too long to seek help, AUT study finds

A two year project by AUT researchers on behalf of the Ministry of Health has found the main motivation for gamblers to seek professional help is a crisis event most likely involving financial loss or hardship and accompanied by significant psychological distress.

The study, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand, also found that the main barriers to seeking help were feelings of pride, shame and problem denial, says its lead researcher, Dr Maria Bellringer. A secondary group of barriers included lack of knowledge of what specialist services were available; lack of understanding of the treatment process; and in some cases, wariness about seeking any kind of professional help because of a previous negative experience.

"We found that people are not accessing help until they face a crisis – a point which is too far down the line and an unnecessary delay," says Dr Bellringer. "It shows we need to be encouraging gamblers to go for help earlier in their journey. There are many people out there still suffering who haven't yet reached a traumatic or critical point or are 'flying under the radar' of raising major concerns.

"The study suggests we need to increase awareness of what services are available to problem gamblers and make early stage help services more accessible. It also suggests we need to raise awareness amongst family, friends and non-specialist health professionals (e.g. GPs, psychiatrists, mental health professionals), so they can encourage people to seek help earlier, before a crisis point."

Dr Bellringer says participants who had noted that one of their barriers was a previous negative experience with any sort of professional assistance and had since gone on to receive specialist gambling assistance reported a high level of satisfaction. But the identification of this barrier means that services should continue to look for constant improvements, she says.

AUT's Dean of the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Professor Max Abbott, says confirming that feelings of pride, shame and problem denial are the main barriers means they can now be focused on and addressed.

"Continuing to try to change the taboo nature of admitting to a problem will be very important," he says.

"Interestingly, the study showed both the main motivators and barriers are the same across all age groups, gender and ethnicities – they are universal, despite statistics showing some groups are under-represented in seeking specialist help, and some are over-represented in seeking help for themselves or some one else.

"This information will be very useful for health professionals seeking to understand why different groups respond differently to services and how or why they overcome their feelings about their problem."

The AUT project is the first of its kind to explore the behaviours behind seeking help for problem gambling, and was undertaken by the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre in AUT's National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research. It set out specifically to investigate this area because the numbers of people seeking professional help in New Zealand, as elsewhere in the world, are considered very low.

The report, which has been delivered to the Ministry of Health, recommends encouraging earlier help-seeking activity amongst problem gamblers, increasing the range, accessibility and effectiveness of non-specialist support services (for example through GPs, churches and community groups), and increasing the accessibility of specialist support services.

It says gains in these areas are most likely to be facilitated by the use of targeted social marketing strategies, opportunistic early intervention initiatives and the wider promotion of evidence-based 'self-help' resources.

Nearly 300 people participated in the study, which included focus groups and in-depth individual interviews.


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