In 2021 Betknowmore UK undertook qualitative research with 14 women with lived experience of gambling harms in order to better understand their support needs. The research aimed to explore how approachable, accessible and effective women find existing support and treatment services in Great Britain. It was also designed to allow women with lived experience to produce recommendations on how services can better attract, retain and help more women who are experiencing gambling harms.
The final research report, released just before Christmas, includes a review of current service provision for women and a literature review. At over 150 pages in length, much of the report is dedicated to amplifying the voices of women. Constant comparison analysis was used to draw out the themes that emerged in focus groups and these are fully illustrated with quotes from the women who took part. Analysis of the themes resulted in a number of key findings, for example, that existing models of support are not currently flexible enough to cater to women with different identities, needs and experiences of gambling harms. It was also found that services do not sufficiently engage in preventative support work to stop women from reaching crisis point and the focus of support on immediate gambling harms means that women’s wider and longer-term needs are not being sufficiently met, for example helping them to rebuild careers. Support services rarely actively appeal to women, instead remaining staunchly gender neutral. This means that the specific, varied and complex needs of women may go unrecognised and unmet. Another key finding is that the signposting of gambling treatment and support services is inconsistent and poor quality, especially among health care professionals. Women needing help have to become researchers, responsible for finding their own support through trial and error. When they find support, its accessibility, quantity and speed are sometimes insufficient, and the provision of peer support and women’s support groups is also insufficient to meet the demand for these services.
Based on these findings and on the suggestions for change made by the women, the report makes a series of key recommendations. One of these is that women need to see themselves in safer gambling campaigns to raise their awareness of gambling harms. These should feature “ordinary” women with lived experience in order to normalise the female gambler, give her hope and enable her to ask for help without shame and fear. Treatment and support services also need to raise public awareness of the harms associated with gambling by diverse groups of women, with an onus on preventing harms before they reach crisis levels. Actively appealing to women would also help diminish the stigma that surrounds women’s gambling harms, while explicitly exploring the differences in the gambling harms and support needs of women and men would increase the relevance of treatment content to women. Another recommendation is that knowledge of gambling harms among professionals in statutory services should be increased to enable them to identify and discuss gambling harms and refer women to appropriate sources of support. Gambling support services themselves also need to provide more accessible and detailed information on what they offer and to whom. Where necessary, they should give effective signposting and referrals to other providers, advising women on how to go about choosing a support service that is right for them. The content of support and treatment needs to be diverse and range from practical measures to stop gambling, to in-depth psychological support, to financial education and strategies to improve health and wellbeing, as well as addressing long-term legacy harms such as debt, unemployment and loss of self-esteem. The value of peer support was widely recognised by the women and they argued that it should not be an “add-on” to therapeutic treatments but have a central place in their recovery, along with women’s support groups that act as safe spaces. These groups enable a community of women to grow which helps protect them from further gambling harms.
The research demonstrates the value of the experiences of women who have accessed gambling support services, as well as the quality of their ideas on how to improve services. They have the lived experience and knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of existing services and as such, these women should play a much greater role in designing gambling treatment and support services. Acknowledging this, the research was undertaken to directly inform the provision of support services offered by Betknowmore UK. The result is an innovative peer support group for women called New Beginnings that will be launched in January 2022. The full research report can be downloaded here, while to find out more about New Beginnings, contact Lisa Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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