Once, we sought salvation in religion. Now, 10 million prayers are raised for a National Lottery jackpot win - and when that hope is dashed, a man like Tim O'Brien takes his life ... Have we all gone lottery mad?

It took an unusually long time for Helen Sutton, 21, to realise she had won the lottery on 3 December last year. "I was just sitting with my mother watching Blind Date," she says, "and when the numbers came up I didn't read them right - I thought I'd only got four and a bonus number correct. Then about an hour later my mother looked again - I don't know why - and told me I'd actually got five and a bonus number. I didn't know what to do - I thought it was really funny."

Helen Sutton is probably the most balanced lottery winner ever. The quiet secretary grew up in the village of Pyle, near Bridgend in Wales in typical middle-class surroundings. Her father is a business manager and her mother, Linda, is the store supervisor at the local Boots. She and her married brother, Nigel, 24, had a decent education at the state school in Pyle and after doing her GCSEs Helen attended a two-year secretarial course at Bridford Secretarial College.

"All my life I've been very happy with my lot," she says from the modest house she shares with her mother near the VG store where she bought her ticket. "My aims have always been to stay happy, to do well with my job and to have a bit of fun. I'm still young, so I hadn't thought about marriage and children. They're not really in the picture yet."

Helen works as a secretary at the police station in Pyle for a salary of around pounds 12,000. It involves plenty of shift work, including nights, but Helen doesn't mind. "My brother works nights too," she says, "and I love the work. I wouldn't want to do anything else other than maybe get promoted within the police. I was already able to buy the things I wanted with my salary. I had an E-reg Fiesta and plenty of clothes. There was nothing I really longed for that I didn't already have."

But her windfall of pounds 337,644 - she has it off pat - did change things a little. "I got myself a new car, a Mondeo [price pounds 16,000] and lots of clothes. Now I can buy shoes and things without thinking. Mum has also been able to get a new car. Otherwise, though, it's all sitting in the bank. I'm looking for ways to invest it. I wouldn't want anything else to change."

Still, Helen recognises she is fortunate in being able to retain such equilibrium in the face of her new wealth. "I'm very glad I didn't win the pounds 19m," she says. "I don't think money necessarily brings happiness - I think it can bring a lot of trouble. I had enough hassle with the phone going all the time after I won my lot."

She also sees the inherent dangers of gambling. "Round here the lottery has become obsessive - it's like the pools used to be. People are spending all their money on it and they are devastated when they don't win. I still do it - I'm part of a syndicate at work and I even won pounds 10 a few weeks after I'd had my big win. I usually spend about pounds 2 a week. When I first won my boss rang up and said, `Do you want to marry me?' but after that it's all gone back to normal - and I love it."