It has taken me a few weeks to gain the courage and find the words to write this blog, as it is rather personal to me and about my own experience.
I am an affected other of gambling harm for over 15 years and, in reality, over the 25-year relationship with my husband. Life became even more challenging after his gambling-related suicide in November 2021.
My life has been a rollercoaster of mental health issues over this time, a mixture of depression, anxiety and now PTSD. Family life means I am usually alone at the weekends. I try not to contact friends as it's precious time for them to be with their partners and family. So on many occasions have been very lonely, having too much thinking time. It has resulted in me having, what I call, crisis days, where I overthink, bring myself down and become extremely low in my mood and thoughts. As for so many people, mental health and gambling harm can be very isolating and fraught with stigma. We cut ourselves off from the world to hide the shame we feel.
On the days like these, I have usually turned to 24-hour charity telephone lines. They have become a lifeline and source of great comfort to me over the years. I can only express how grateful I am that they have always been there for me. But what brings me to write this difficult blog is what transpired just a few Sundays ago.
I was having a particularly low crisis Sunday, my thought process had run wild, and I had brought myself to a point where I felt desperate. I could not distract myself or lighten my mood. My thoughts were dark and extremely sad, and I needed to talk to someone about my feelings over my husband's suicide. So I did what I always do and searched telephone numbers for suicide bereavement. I felt apprehension at sharing my thoughts and desperation over my current feelings, but I still dialled the number at 15.45 on Sunday afternoon. To get an answering machine message politely telling me that the office was closed and to call back at 9 am on Monday.
So I did the next best thing, and at 15:46, I rang a 24-hour helpline I have used many times before. Tears streaming down my face, the phone is answered by another polite answering machine message again, politely telling me that all
their lines were busy and I could call back later!
This sent me completely spiralling into a black hole of despair for a few split seconds. Then my understanding and concern for others in the same position suddenly kicked in. I am lucky enough to have worked in the gambling harm charity sector for over three years. I have peer training and a sound awareness of mental health and crisis situations. I could control my thoughts and feelings at this point and consider how awful it could have been for somebody else.
Somebody alone and in despair who didn't have my knowledge, someone like my husband who had reached his wit's end. What would have happened to them when reaching out for help and were rejected, not once, but twice? At a point where I knew my grief, guilt, and confusion were at a very low point. How would somebody else have coped in that situation, or even would they?
Now, I am not here to criticise all of the fantastic work helpline charities do, but for myself and the millions of other service users that contact them monthly, there can not be times when answer phones are reached instead of real people. This country's mental health has suffered measurably since Covid, and with the added pressure of the cost of living and interest rate rises, we are all under much more stress than before.
I have since tried contacting both charities involved, and of course, the issues are as expected volume of service users and funding.
It is now when money needs to be made available to all charities that help with mental health, gambling harms, peer support, and bereavement (in fact, I could go on and on). I won't be dragged into the political war of words concerning funding. I will only talk from my heart, but things need to change. Something must change, and people need to become more important than profits. We must make the massive industries responsible for some of these addictions and mental health issues accountable. If support is not provided on mass and soon, then the already overwhelmed NHS will buckle, and we will lose even more lives too soon.
Safe spaces and knowledgeable support must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so lives aren't lost, and families aren't left heartbroken. I am not an isolated case, but please always remember to keep trying. There is somebody out there somewhere. Before you get to crisis, don't let stigma keep you quiet.
Many online websites and support charities are already available and can be accessed via the internet. I have listed some below to help anybody needing to reach out.
Samaritans: Telephone Number, free phone. 116 123
Cruse Bereavement Support: 0808 808 1677
National Gambling Helpline: 0808 8020 133 (24-hour)
Domestic Violence Support:
The free phone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247
Suicide Support: https://www.spuk.org.uk/national-suicide-prevention-helpline-uk/
Open from 6 pm to midnight every day on 0800 689 5652.