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GambleAware review urges end to stigmatising language for gambling harm

| By Robert Fletcher
GambleAware has published a new study calling for an end to stigmatising language and discrimination towards people who suffer from gambling harm.

Conducted by Dr Anne Stangl, Triantafyllos Pliakas and Mariana Siapka, “Building Knowledge of Stigma Related to Gambling and Gambling Harms in Great Britain” analysed evidence on stigma, discrimination and gambling from 54 individual studies and nine review papers from 19 countries.

The report looked at how the use of certain language and terms across research, service provision, policy and media campaigns has developed a stigma that is now associated with those who suffer with gambling harm.

As such, the report put forward a number of recommendations to help reduce this stigma and allow individuals access the relevant help and advice they need.

For researchers and others working on gambling harms, the report recommended the use of person-first language in studies and campaigns to underline gambling disorder is a mental disorder, rather than a label or identity.

For example, the report said, “person with a gambling disorder” or “person who struggles with gambling” should be used instead of “gambling addict” or “problem gambler”. This, researchers said, would also show a person with gambling disorder “has” a problem, rather than “is” the problem.

Person-first language, the report said, would also help to reduce the risk of eliciting negative associations or attitudes, or the risk of the person in question feeling blamed.

Stigmatising terms should not be used about people who experience gambling harms. For example, the term “addict” is stigmatising because it reduces a person down to their disorder.

The report noted that many existing studies in gambling research report breached these guidelines and used stigmatising language to describe people with gambling problems, indicating how some existing research may risk contributing to this stigma.

The review also looked at stigma in other contexts and found the ways in which gambling stigma arises, and the impact this has on people, is similar to the stigma around other health behaviours and conditions such as mental health, drug and alcohol use, cancer, obesity and HIV. 

As such, the report put forward recommendations for people working in healthcare settings to help avoid reinforcing stigma around gambling.

These included involving more people with lived experience of gambling harms in training and research, as well as raising awareness among healthcare professionals of what gambling stigma is and how it can be harmful to people who struggle with gambling harm.

The report also recommended training healthcare professionals on how gambling stigma can be an obstacle to treatment, as well as the strategies they can use to help service users cope with gambling-related stigma.

“Given the high prevalence of gambling in Great Britain and the significant harms being reported among both adolescents and adults, it is critical that programmes and policies to prevent or mitigate such harms are prioritised,” the report said. “Stigma reduction interventions in order to reduce gambling-related harms would be beneficial.”

GambleAware added that it will use the recommendations as the basis for further research it will help fund, with the aim of exploring people’s lived experiences of stigma, understanding which communities are most impacted by it, and to set out potential solutions to tackle stigma.

“Over the coming months and years, a major part of our work will be focused on reducing stigma and the barriers people face when accessing the support they need,” GambleAware chief executive Zoë Osmond said.

“We welcome the study findings and will use the recommendations to strengthen our work, including our public health campaigns to raise awareness of gambling harms and encourage people to get help.”

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