The NHS has enlisted the help of a recovering gambling addict in a clinic aimed at others trying to rid themselves of the betting bug, writes Owen Sheppard, Local Democracy Correspondent.
Owen Baily believes there are possibly thousands of West Londoners who are gripped by the mental illness of a gambling addiction, but are too fearful to seek help.
In his new role as a peer support worker, the 36-year-old hopes to help others to recognise the problem they have and to kick the habit.
Clinicians say his experience of having plumbed the depths of a “brutal” addiction, then gradually getting himself clean will make him crucial to winning patients’ trust and helping them find freedom.
Mr Baily will commute to London from Oxford to help at the National Problem Gambling Clinic in Warwick Road, Earl’s Court.
He knows the danger signs in gambling addiction. It was when he was just a schoolboy, growing up in the seaside arcades of his home town of Boston, Lincolnshire, that he acquired a fascination with fruit machines.
He has endured spells of rough sleeping, moved home 40 times and started and lost a lot of jobs.
Mr Bailey said: “It’s b******s to say it’s not a real addiction. It’s violent, it’s harsh. You feel psychologically gripped and not able to resist it, and feel really tense if you try.
Then you have to release that tension to feel normal. When it gets a grip on you, it’s like something thrusting your head into a gutter and keeping it there.”
From believing that he would, in the end, make a profit, Mr Baily said gambling “began to dominate” his life.
It offered escapism during a rocky childhood that saw him excluded from four schools. “Going on the fruit machines allowed me to forget about traumatic experiences I had as a teenager,” he said.
“From a very early age I couldn’t resist it and I would gamble every single penny.”
Mr Baily decided to seek help in 2008, when his father confided in him that he too was looking to get clean. By that time, the National Problem Gambling Clinic had just opened, and was the first of its kind in the country.
During his early 20s, Mr Baily said there was “virtually no help available anywhere”. “In 2004, if you presented with alcohol or drug problems you could get help, but gambling addiction was an unknown quantity,” he said.
A lot of people, he says, just go on believing they will be able to help themselves out of their own addiction. “Others just don’t realise it is an addiction”.
The clinic offered Mr Baily, and still offers current patients, a common treatment for mental health problems called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It’s also used to help people with anxiety and depression, and involves training patients to be able to recognise negative thought patterns and fend them off.
Other forms of treatment at the clinic include: behavioural couples therapy, support groups, psychiatric reviews, and medication.
“It has made me realise what I was missing. I had a chance to meet other people like myself who had a problem. The help I received was fantastic,” he said.
As a peer-support worker, he will be able to offer patients what the NHS terms as “lived experience”, meaning they will be able to relate to someone who has walked in their shoes.
“I will meet people using the service and work with them to develop strategies and skills to be able to develop,” Mr Baily said.
“I’m hoping they will be able to see it’s possible to deal with a gambling problem. I persisted and persevered and pushed through, and realised it’s possible. I’m hoping to be able to convey that experience.”
To find out more about the National Problem Gambling Clinic, run by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, visit: https://www.cnwl.nhs.uk/cnwl-national-problem-gambling-clinic/