9-15 May 2022 is National Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, the Mental Health Foundation has chosen to focus on the theme of loneliness and its effects on mental health in our communities. Loneliness is an uncomfortable and distressing feeling that happens when someone perceives that there is a gap between the social relationships they have and the relationships they wish they had (Perlman and Peplau, 1981). A sense of loneliness is driven by a person’s perceived solitude, disconnectedness and inadequate social relationships (Sirola et al., 2019). Perceptions of loneliness can vary from one person to the next, be short term or long–lasting and have equally varying reasons and consequences.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, people became both physically and socially isolated during successive lockdowns and the Mental Health Foundation reports that loneliness levels in the UK were much higher, with devastating impacts. Those impacts were, and still are, felt unevenly, with those most at risk including people experiencing harms caused by their own gambling or that of someone close to them. Social isolation, lack of social support and boredom can exacerbate levels of gambling and lead to further harms such as relationship breakdowns, financial hardship, further isolation, loneliness and high levels of shame and guilt. Loneliness can therefore be both a consequence of and a cause of harmful gambling (Trevorrow and Moore, 1998).
Research from around the world shows a strong relationship between loneliness and harmful gambling. In Australian, Gill and McQuade (2012) found that loneliness plays a primary and important role in all levels of problematic gambling behaviour. This will impact not just on the gambler but also their family, friends and work colleagues, as well as communities and the services that support them. Research suggests that loneliness can especially contribute to harmful gambling among adolescents, women and older adults who are experiencing age-related circumstances such as living alone, ill-health, having a low income and no longer working (Gilland McQuade, 2012).
Sirolaet al. (2019) show how online communities can be attractive for young people who are dissatisfied with their offline relationships. Late adolescence and early adulthood come with challenges related to the transition to adulthood, making young people vulnerable to loneliness and associated risky behaviours such as excessive gambling. This may be especially true for young people who are neurodiverse or who belong to stigmatised groups such as the LGBTQ+communities. “As a result of their perceived loneliness and perceived lack of understanding and support, excessive gamblers may be motivated to seek gambling-related social contacts and supportive interactions through online communities” (Sirola et al., 2019). Trevorrow and Moore (1998) similarly found that women gambling at excessive levels were significantlymore lonely than other women and they were also more likely to be involved in social networks in which gambling was normalised. In the UK, research by John et al. (2019) found that both men and women engaged in the most problematic levels of gambling were more likely to feel lonely and isolated from other people. They also appeared to have smaller networks of people they felt close to compared to non-gamblers and were less likely to perceive that family and friends gave them encouragement and support.
Gambling can, then, be both a refuge from loneliness and a cause of loneliness. It can allow people to become lost in the moment and forget their isolation, but excessive gambling can cause further isolation when it is hidden by lies and leads to broken promises, guilt and shame. The loss of close relationships, employment and other opportunities and interests can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, not just for the gambler but also for those close to them. But there is support available for people experiencing both gambling harms and loneliness.
Mind provides useful information about loneliness (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/about-loneliness/) and advice that includes slowly making new connections, seeking peer support and trying talking therapies. Betknowmore UK offers support through Peer Aid in conjunction with GamCare. Our online women’s peer support service is called New Beginnings and our GOALS service provides outreach support in our communities.
Gill, P. and McQuade, A. (2012) The role of loneliness and self-control in predicting problem gambling behaviour, Gambling Research:Journal of the National Association for Gambling Studies (Australia) 24(1):18–30, ISSN 1832-4975.
John, A., Chim Lee, S., Wardle, H., McManus, S. and Dymond,S. (2019) Exploring Problem Gambling, Loneliness and Lifetime SuicidalBehaviours: A Cross-sectional Study Using the Adult Psychiatric MorbiditySurvey 2007, report prepared for GambleAware.
Perlman, D. andPeplau, L. A. (1981) Toward a social psychology of loneliness. In M. Duck andR. Gilmour (Eds) Personal Relationships in Disorder, London, AcademicPress, pp. 31–56.
Sirola, A., Kaakinen, M., Savolainen, L. and Oksanen, A.(2019) Loneliness and online gambling-community participation of young social media users, Computers in Human Behavior 95: 136-145,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.01.023.
Trevorrow,K. and Moore, S. (1998) The association between loneliness, social isolation and women’s electronic gaming machine gambling, Journal of Gambling Studies14: 263–284, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022057609568.
Get help for a loved one or someone you know who is suffering from gambling-related harm.