Following a new analysis of 2007 data, the Gambling Commission has united with The Samaritans to strengthen the battle against problem gambling.

The small scale research programme, which shed light on problem gambling’s links to suicide,  was based on findings from the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS).

Published by GambleAware and the Gambling Commission, the research indicated that one in five (19%) problem gamblers had thought about suicide in the past year.

Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission, commented: “This research is based on data from 2007 but nonetheless the findings clearly show a connection between suicide and gambling, something that has a real and devastating impact on people’s lives. Whilst further research and more timely data collection is essential, we are taking further action now to protect people from the risk of gambling harm.

“As a result of this research, the Commission and Samaritans will work together to bolster the existing requirements on gambling businesses to identify those at risk and take action to address and reduce harm.”

The survey questioned 7,403 people, of which 41 were identified as problem gamblers (5.5%). From this figure, it was extrapolated that 5% of problem gamblers reported they had made a suicide attempt in the past year, compared with 0.6% of those who showed no sign of problem gambling.

Further building on the research, the gambling support charity GamCare will pilot an extension to the National Gambling helpline hours to 24 hours a day for a period of two years to better support vulnerable customers. This pilot will be funded by GambleAware and comes as a result of this research.

Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware, added: “There is limited data and research on the link between gambling and suicide and this research is just the start. This report has clearly identified the significant gaps in the data that is currently available and what steps we should be taking to get more evidence to help improve our knowledge and understanding of the relationship between gambling and suicide.

“It is vital we all know what signs to look out for in a gambling addiction, so we can point people in the direction of help as and when they need it. We look forward to continuing to work with Government, particularly the Department of Health and Social Care, and all those involved to promote the help and services available at BeGambleAware.org.”

The survey analysis shows an association between problem gambling, suicidal behaviours and loneliness that researchers suggest warrants further investigation. Problem gamblers were more likely to feel lonely and isolated from other people than the rest of the population and appeared to have a smaller network of people they felt close to and were less likely to feel that their friends and family gave them encouragement and support.

Dr Heather Wardle, Assistant Professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The harms from gambling are profound and can be devastating for individuals, families and communities. These results show how people with gambling problems are a higher risk group for suicidality. Everyone involved in providing, legislating and regulating gambling should recognise this risk and take action to prevent harm.”

In order to scope out what further research may be needed, a range of stakeholders, including those with lived experience of gambling harms, including addiction and bereavement due to suicide, attended a one-day workshop. The aim of the session was to better understand what knowledge gaps there were regarding gambling and suicide and to develop recommendations for future work.

Recommendations from the session included:

  • The development of educational packages for clinicians, primary care providers and coroners to raise awareness of the association between gambling and suicidality.
  • The commissioning of a systematic review of evidence of the relationship between gambling and suicidality
  • The conduct of a psychological autopsy study to explore cases where gambling is related to suicide

Professor Ann John, Swansea University and Chair of the National Advisory Group to Welsh Government on Suicide and Self-harm prevention, said: “‘Death by suicide is usually in response to a complex interplay of a number of factors, it is rarely due to a single reason and is never inevitable.  However, there is no doubt that there has been a lack of recognition that there is an association between problem gambling and suicide.

“Our research is a first step in understanding that association. Problem gamblers should be included as a high-risk group in suicide prevention strategies, efforts made to improve awareness, particularly in those providing services, and we need to encourage people to seek help before they reach a crisis point.”