Gambling Led to 180 Suicides in Victoria

Gambling Led to 180 Suicides in Victoria
A general view of the betting stand during Brierly Steeplechase day at Warrnambool Racing Club in Victoria, Australia on May 2, 2023. (Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)
Isabella Rayner

Over 180 suicide deaths in Victoria were a direct result of gambling, a landmark study of data from the coroner found on Sept. 11, prompting urgent calls to deal with suicide prevention.

Federation University, in collaboration with the Coroners Court of Victoria, undertook the study (pdf) titled “Gambling-related suicide in Victoria, Australia: a population-based cross-sectional study” and found 184 of 4,788 suicide deaths in Victoria were gambling-related, comprising 4.2 percent of all suicides over eight years.

Further, there were 5.13 direct gambling-related suicides (GRS) accounted for per one million Victorian adults.

About 83 percent of GRS were significantly more likely to be disadvantaged males with family members and friends more likely to know about the deceased’s gambling than clinicians.

However, 184 GRS could have been significantly higher, according to the study, because coroners do not routinely investigate gambling and such habits could be hidden.

In response, several suicide prevention advocates called on the federal and state governments to urgently introduce significant gambling harm reforms on Sept. 12.

Calls to Change How We Deal With Gambling

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 support, are compromised by the financial harms of gambling. This often leaves people vulnerable to risk factors of suicide.”

Protective factors could include actions or efforts to minimise the negative impact of gambling, such as community connection.

Alliance for Gambling Reform CEO Carol Bennett said one step the government can take is to reframe gambling as a harmful product rather than a recreational service.

“We must adopt a national public health approach to preventing GRD consistent with the process of other products that involve commercial determinants of health such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs,” Ms. Bennett said.

For example, the National Tobacco Campaign is one of the Department of Health and Aged Care’s (DHAC) longest-running public health campaigns to reduce smoking rates in Australia. After it launched in June 1997, adult smoking has decreased 3.7 percent in 5 years, according to DHAC in June 2023.

However, the lack of GRD commercial health determinants was further highlighted in a report released in March 2023 that found most Australians expressed concern about the availability of gambling and its impacts on the community, believing there are “too many gambling opportunities,” according to the Australian Gambling Research Centre.

Ms. Bennett said less effective gambling deterrence caused “financial distress, poor health, anxiety and depression, family violence, family breakdown, poverty and homelessness,” and “now we have evidence of significant numbers of gambling-related suicide.”

Meanwhile, Financial Counselling Australia claimed financial counsellors were aware of GRD across Australia.

Financial Counselling Australia Policy and Campaigns Director Lauren Levin said, “We see it in the casework; 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 as a result, families were grieving, often not knowing the role gambling played in people’s lives because the financial data was “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.

The Victorian Liberal Party is on board with introducing significant gambling harm reforms and urged the state Labor government to “do more” on Sept. 12.

Victorian Government Urged to Take Action

Mental Health Shadow Minister Emma Kealy said Labor must re-consider its long-term funding for gambling programs.

“Labor’s cuts to gambling support couldn’t come at a worse time, with cost-of-living pressures mounting on Victorians and demand for mental health, alcohol and drug and gambling support significantly increasing,” she said.

“Those living with gambling addiction need access to more support, not have these life-saving services cut,” Ms. Keely said.

However, the Victorian Department of Health (VDH) said, “There is no single cause of suicide or simple solution to prevent it. Suicide can affect anyone, but some individuals and groups may be more at risk.”

The suicide prevention framework 2016-2025 committed to halving the suicide rate over the next ten years with the VDH trialling two flagship suicide prevention initiatives.

The Victorian Budget 2016-17 provided $27 million over four years to support place-based suicide prevention and assertive outreach trials.

“An important part of these trials is developing culturally appropriate and safe suicide prevention approaches. Evaluation of these trials will inform efforts across the State,” VDH said.

“Every death tells a unique story, but each has the same underlying message for our community. We need to do more to prevent suicide.”

Lifeline - 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467.
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Isabella Rayner is a reporter based in Melbourne, Australia. She is an author and editor for WellBeing, WILD, and EatWell Magazines.