April 28, 2021

Gambling and Men's Mental Health

Matt Smith

With it being Men's health week, I wanted to blog about mental health in men, when I utter the words ‘mental health’ what feelings and emotions do those words trigger? For me it was fear. I was scared to talk to people who had such issues, and I was also frightened to reach out myself and share my own stuff. It is that fear of the unknown that stops us from doing things, not knowing outcomes, or for that matter being able to control them, can have an emotional impact on our wellbeing. Thankfully in recent years I have learnt to accept that I cannot control the reactions of people or the outcome of events. This shift in thinking has given me the ability to start having open and honest conversations with those around me.

Whilst amid a chronic gambling addiction my mental health was stuck in a vicious circle, the feelings of anxiety and stress took me to gambling in the first place which was my form of escaping those awkward feelings. When I was gambling, I then became isolated, withdrawn, and depressed. I would continue to gamble to win the money I had previously lost, and every single time promised to pay off my debts if I won – that never happened. I would then get stressed and anxious again and the same cycle repeated itself. Those on the outside think you can just stop, and maybe some people can but I couldn’t it took a rock bottom for me to realise that I didn’t want to live like that anymore.

I am often asked what does mental health feel like. I feel that writing blogs or recording podcasts can never really paint a picture of the full story because it’s a very personal thing. I can share my own experience which is my brain at times did not have an off button. I would constantly think about issues that were completely out of my control to the point of giving myself a headache or making myself so anxious and stressed that I would need to self-medicate through alcohol or gambling. In turn this also meant that the important things in life were neglected, I didn’t communicate with my friends, family, or colleagues because I simply didn’t know how to, I didn’t know what to say to them and deep down that even though they cared I knew that my mental wellbeing was my own responsibility, and it was up to me to reach out when I was ready.

I am fortunate that at Betknowmore I work in an environment that encourages healthy communication and we regularly have health and wellbeing groups where we can talk about what’s going on for us. What triggered this conversation was that I shared a WhatsApp message this morning with our work group, a photo from the day I entered treatment for gambling. I was emotionally, spiritually, and physically broken. You often see before and after photos online of people who have experienced drug addiction and thankfully recovered. It’s kind of expected that if you ingest drugs that your body will react to that. However, gambling isn’t ingesting anything it was the constant pressure I had put upon myself under that eventually made me look physically ill and withdrawn. The lights were on, but nobody was home.

Nearly 7 years on from going into treatment and continuing my journey of recovery I have found myself in a place comfortable enough to share these stories and photos with others in the hope that it will inspire and help them to do the same. I spoke to an old colleague of mine this week, we hadn’t spoke for many years but have both suffered with our mental health. I said to him isn’t it strange that we had more in common than we ever knew. After all these years of working on ourselves we have now been able to say to each other I am here for you if you need me.

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