Findings spark urgent call for government action
Federal and State Governments must introduce significant gambling harm reforms in the wake of new research that indicates a significant percentage of suicides across Australia are related to gambling.
Suicide Prevention Australia, the Alliance for Gambling Reform and Financial Counselling Australia have come together to demand a significant rethink of the nation’s approach to gambling and finally treat it as a public health issue.
New research undertaken by Federation University in collaboration with the Coroners Court of Victoria, examined the Victorian Suicide Register which showed at least 184 suicides were directly related to gambling and 17 other suicides were by ‘affected others’ such as family members. The research took the latest available data which covered cases between 2009 and 2016.
But the researchers warned the true number of gambling related suicides was likely to be much higher and cited better reporting methods used in Hong Kong which resulted in 20% of all suicides identified as being related to gambling.
Dr Angela Rintoul, Senior Research Fellow at Federation University and lead author of the study said, “Governments in Victoria and across Australia should commit to funding suicide registers.”
“Gambling-related suicides are likely to have increased since 2016 given the compounding effects of COVID-19 pandemic and stress associated with the cost-of-living pressures,” she said.
The three agencies are calling for urgent action including:
- The establishment of a Federal-State taskforce that is charged with preventing gambling suicides.
- The full implementation by the Federal Government of the Murphy inquiry recommendations into online gambling, including a full gambling advertising ban
- A national strategy for police and coroners to have access to a ‘gambling data vault’ to pick up gambling related deaths and identify the true extent of gambling-related suicides.
- For gambling related suicides to be reported annually in Parliament, which means that every state coroner needs a unit investigating gambling related suicides.
Suicide Prevention Australia CEO, Nieves Murray said, “We know that gambling harms are often invisible. Unfortunately, protective factors for suicide, such as social and financial supports are compromised by the financial harms of gambling. This often leaves people vulnerable to risk factors of suicide.”
Ms Murray said the research provided critical insights into gambling-related deaths by suicide in Australia, shining a light on an often- silent suicide risk. The research was funded by the National Suicide Prevention Research Fund and Suicide Prevention Australia manages the fund on behalf of the Federal Government.
The CEO of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Carol Bennett, said there was an urgent need to reframe gambling as a harmful product rather than a recreational service.
“We must adopt a national public health approach to preventing gambling related deaths consistent with the approach to other products that involve commercial determinants of health such as tobacco, alcohol and other drugs,” she said.
“We know gambling causes financial distress but also poor health, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, family violence, family breakdown, poverty and homelessness. Now we have evidence of significant numbers of gambling related suicide.”
The Director of Policy and Campaigns at Financial Counselling Australia, Lauren Levin, said
“Financial counsellors and others working at the grassroots know that across Australia people are taking their lives directly because of gambling,” she said.
“We see it in the case work, it is as plain and simple as that. People come in for help and disclose that they are considering suicide because of the impact of their gambling. It is not all about the money or even debt, but often it is about loss of control, about gambling taking over a person’s headspace every hour of the day.”
Ms Levin said families were grieving, often not knowing the role that gambling had played because the financial data is missing from the police and coroners’ reports.
“Not only are gambling related suicides happening, but the attempted suicides are also a marker of harm, and attempts are not being counted,” she said.
To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.
Help to report about suicide safely is available online: Go to https://mindframe.org.au/
Tom Anderson 0409 718 271 or [email protected]
Clare Kinsella 0427 689 689 or [email protected]
About Suicide Prevention Australia
Suicide Prevention Australia is the national peak body and we’ve been providing support for Australia’s suicide prevention sector for more than 30 years. We support and advocate for our members to drive continual improvement in suicide prevention policy, programs and services. Our reach is broad, including member organisations, governments, businesses, researchers, practitioners and those with lived experience. We are focused on an integrated approach to suicide prevention encompassing mental health, social, economic and community factors. We believe that through collaborative effort and shared purpose, we can achieve our vision of a world without suicide.