People who have a gambling addiction are 15 times more likely to take their own lives, according to the largest ever study of its kind.
The new research has prompted immediate calls for action from the Government to confront the UK’s growing gambling epidemic and comes as former England and Arsenal footballer Paul Merson broke down earlier this week on the popular ITV documentary Harry’s Heroes: The Full English, revealing that he is “struggling badly” with a relapse of his gambling addiction.
In the recent study, academics at Lund University in Sweden looked at more than 2,000 people with gambling disorders and found an elevated risk of suicide compared with the general population over an 11-year period.
Suicide rates were actually 19 times higher among men aged between 20 and 49, and 15 times higher among men and women of all ages.
If you apply the same results to the UK, the Swedish study suggests there would be around 550 suicides a year in which gambling played a part – more than 10 a week.
It is interesting to note that Northern Ireland has a gambling prevalence rate four times higher than in England.
According to the Samaritans, suicide rates in Northern Ireland are also higher than in Great Britain.
Christian Action Research & Education (CARE), who campaign for better gambling regulations warned that unless more was done to provide help for problem gamblers, the situation is likely to get worse.
“The fact that men and women with a gambling addiction are 15 times more likely to commit suicide is extremely shocking and this extensive study is a wake-up call for the Government,” James Mildred, of CARE, told The Catholic Universe.
“We need to recognise that often the factors behind a suicide are multi-layered, rather than isolated to one particular reason.
“However, given what we know about the scale of problem gambling and the suicide rates in the UK it is absolutely reasonable to draw a link between the two.
“There are estimated to be more than two million adults across Great Britain who have a gambling problem or are at risk of developing one,” Mr Mildred continued.
“We also know there are thought to be hundreds of thousands of children gambling on a regular basis.
“But shockingly, there is currently only one specialist gambling clinic in the UK to help those with gambling addiction and that’s in London.
“While a second one is possibly opening this year in Leeds, that’s clearly not enough and the lack of help available on the NHS is a major issue.
“We are facing a problem gambling epidemic and if we fail to act, the situation is likely to get far worse.”
Picture: A young man plays on a slot machine in a casino. (Britta Pedersen/dpa).