Liz Riley, Research and Evaluation Manager, Betknowmore UK, announces a new research report on gambling treatment and support services for women.

In 2021 Betknowmore UK launched a research project called Treatment and Support Services for Women Experiencing Gambling Harms: What Women Get and What Women Want. This research arose out of a need for Betknowmore UK to expand the evidence on women’s gambling harms in order to better understand and meet women’s support needs.

The project explored women’s lived experiences of services and how approachable, accessible and effective they found them to be. The 14 women who took part in the qualitative research were also asked to identify the elements that support and treatment services need to put in place in order to attract and help more women. The final report for the project is now complete and available for download.

In addition to sections on the research methodology, it includes a rapid 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 through the presentation of the research findings.

One of the key findings to emerge is 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 or ‘rock bottom’.

The focus of support on immediate gambling harms also means that women’s wider and longer-term needs are not being sufficiently met, for example helping them to rebuild careers and relationships, and improve their self-esteem and confidence. The nature of long-standing legacy harms remains poorly understood.

The review of support services undertaken as part of the research found that services rarely actively appeal to women, instead remaining staunchly gender neutral. Support services rarely explicitly acknowledge the differences in the gambling harms experienced by women and men. 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 can be 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. With the research undertaken before GambleAware’s latest campaign directed at women called Loosing track of the world around you?, the women who took part in the research also said that safer gambling media campaigns do not feel relevant to women or help them recognise when their gambling is becoming harmful.

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 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 range and 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 online peer support group for women called New Beginnings that will be launched in 2022. To find out more about New Beginnings, contact Lisa Walker at [email protected]

Betknowmore would like to thank all the inspirational women who contributed to this research. Without their honesty and candour, this research would not have been possible. If you have any questions about the research, please get in touch with Liz Riley at [email protected]