Dark side of luck: Gambling’s impact on mental health, well-being

There is this story about a respected man who tragically committed suicide due to being a victim of compulsive gambling and accumulating excessive debt. 

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One of the loan companies he borrowed from threatened to publicly shame him if he didn't repay his debt. To avoid the embarrassment and protect his status in the community, he chose to end his life, leaving behind his family to deal with the aftermath.

Allure

The allure of gambling can be hard to resist, with the excitement of winning sometimes overshadowing the potential negative impact on mental health. Gambling addiction, also known as Ludopathy, is recognised as a mental disorder in the DSM-5. The rise of online gambling, particularly sports betting, has made it more accessible and popular, especially among the youth.

Advertising for these services often promotes large winnings, despite warnings to gamble responsibly. The ease of using smartphones and the anonymity of online gambling have contributed to its increase in popularity.

If not monitored closely, gambling can become a serious issue affecting not just finances, but also people’s mental well-being.

Hardship

Many people, especially youths, engage in soccer betting due to economic hardship. Gambling companies offer unrealistic rewards to entice players to keep betting, ultimately feeding on their wealth.

Companies use celebrities for advertising to easily influence young people. Peer influence and curiosity also play a role in the high patronage of soccer betting among the youth, who often engage in these activities to fit in or seek validation from their friends.

Addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation and memory. It is when a person's body craves a substance or behaviour compulsively and obsessively, disregarding consequences.

In a real-life example, a young man was motivated to engage in soccer betting by his friend's success story, hoping to win big like him. Despite some small wins, he continued to stake large amounts with the hope of a big win, driven by discussions in a WhatsApp group.

The young man's parents were concerned about his withdrawal after failing his West African Senior School Examination (WASSCE). It was discovered that he was suffering from compulsive gambling, which took over his life, affecting his focus in school and sleep patterns.

This young man explained that the excitement he often felt during a reward was no longer enough, leading to a desire for bigger rewards. He began selling his belongings and personal effects to fund his betting addiction.

Compulsive

Compulsive gambling can lead to serious complications such as depression, anxiety, stress, neurological damage, jail time, damaged relationships, suicide, bankruptcy and perpetual debt.

Treatment options include seeking assistance at any district or government hospital's Mental Health Unit or calling a toll-free helpline on 0800678678. It is important to raise awareness of the dangers of gambling addiction, provide supervision for children, include mental health in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), offer support and empathy to those affected, and be patient in helping them overcome their addiction.

It is also important to take care of ourselves to prevent passing on addictive behaviours to future generations, since it can be genetically predisposed.

The writer is an Alumni of Methodist University, Ghana

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