Problem gambling is a psychiatric illness that will soon be reclassified with other addictions. People who are problem gamblers have found their lives taken over by a preoccupation with gambling and have lost money they could not afford to lose.
I have been working with problem gamblers since 2008 when I set up the National Problem Gambling Clinic, the first and only NHS clinic in the field. The demand for treatment has been overwhelming and we receive about 700 referrals a year, of which 10 per cent are women.
In 2012, I set up Gambling Concern (gamblingconcern.org), a charity that speaks up for the needs of problem gamblers. I believe in assertive outreach when trying to recruit women to our clinic. We even offer free childcare to female patients as well as a women-only group.
The proliferation of online gambling has brought into the home an activity that was historically male dominated. Women patients have reported that online gambling has made it possible for them to gamble excessively without the fear of social stigma. Some of our patients are mothers who gamble online while the children are present. Emotional neglect is something we come across frequently, and 30 per cent of our patients had parents who were problem gamblers themselves.
We need to protect children from gambling-related material appearing on their mobile phones and computer screens. If we manage this, we will be ensuring a safer future for our children.
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones is founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, London, an NHS service provided by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. She is also a member of the Government's Responsible Gambling Strategy Board