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Gambling addiction: When the mental health impact outweighs the money problem | SBS News

This article contains references to suicide/self-harm.
Paul Fung was introduced to gambling at the age of seven, watching his parents play Mahjong in the underground casinos of Melbourne’s Chinatown.
Later in life, as an adult, he lost $1,000,000 of his brother’s money either in casinos or online.
Fascinated by the fast-paced nature of the bets, Paul began to learn the tricks of the trade, and by the time he reached adulthood, gambling became an inevitable daily activity.

“It was the highest priority before eating, sleeping, showering,” he told SBS News.

Paul Fung says gambling almost cost him his life. credit: Supplied / Paul Fung

After losing seven figures – money loaned to him by his brother – and gambling away about $20,000 in workers’ compensation, the only option he saw was to take his own life.

“The thoughts were constant – what good am I? I’ve lost my family and I have no friends. What am I living for? These are the extremes you go to when your gambling gets to this level,” Paul said.

Mahjong tiles on the mat, people lay out the tiles with their hands.

Paul Fung was introduced to gambling as a child when he watched his parents play Mahjong. Source: Getty / Alistair Cheong

Pavel is not the only one who suffers big losses from gambling. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said around $25 billion was lost to legal forms of gambling in Australia in 2018-19.

A parliamentary inquiry will look into online gambling, it was announced last week, and will look at how effective advertising restrictions are at preventing children from gambling.
Lauren Levin of Financial Advice Australia is pushing for reforms to prevent gambling-related suicides.
It’s not just financial losses from gambling that can lead to ideas, she said.
“It’s often about secrecy, shame, loss of trust, broken relationships and a really deep sense of personal failure,” she told SBS News.
For Paul, this shame is ingrained in the Chinese culture he grew up in, which prevented him from calling for help when he needed it most.

“You always have to be brave and pretend everything is fine. Because it’s not just my own shame, it’s the family name. The darkness and shame is shared – your whole family is isolated from the community,” he said. .

Where is the help?

Grace He is a gambling counselor who specializes in treating those of Asian descent.
She said one of the hardest parts of her job is getting people from Asian cultures to actively seek the help they need.

“Asians often don’t understand this Western style of counseling because gambling is illegal in our culture and so speaking out can land you in jail,” she told SBS News.

Problem with “problem gambling”

Ms Levine said the rhetoric surrounding gambling advertising played a key role in the stigma and shaming of addiction.

“We hear the awful slogan ‘Gamble responsibly’ and that means if your life falls apart and you get addicted or you lose money, then you just haven’t been responsible. You have failed. And that’s what we need to change,” she said.

Hand of people placing chips on casino table

Human rights activists say that gambling should be recognized more as a stress factor in suicides. Source: Getty / Minko Chernev

Calls for policy reform

Tasmania has announced the introduction of Australia’s first mandatory pre-commitment card for pokies players, allowing consumers to lose as little as $100 a day or $500 a month.

It follows a series of investigations this year which found several casinos – including Perth’s Crown and Sydney’s Star – ineligible for gambling licences, in part because they failed to minimize gambling-related harm .

Recognizing the stress factor of gambling

Matthew McLean from the Australian Suicide Prevention Lifeline says there needs to be more recognition of gambling as a stress factor in suicides.
“We need to know the full scale and extent of this problem. This is important because when we have a clearer and more complete picture, we know that the government will look to invest more funds, we know that the reform agenda will be more focused,” he said. SBS News.
Industry experts say that working to destigmatize gambling debt and seeking support can not only help understand the link between gambling and suicidal thoughts, but also prevent them.
Advocates like Ms. Levin, who work tirelessly to reduce the risk of harm from gambling, believe there is always support for those struggling.
“Financial advisors will go at whatever pace a person wants to go at, step by step to change the trajectory of a person’s life and get them to a better place,” she said.
Listen to the full story or through your favorite podcast app.
Readers seeking help in crisis can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Helpline on 1300 659 467 and the Children’s Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people under 25 ). More information and support about mental health is available at and on 1300 22 4636.
supports people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.


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