We are thrilled that the discussion of mental health spans far past a single month. It’s a 24/7/365 health issue that impacts our lives, work, and community. As this discussion expands, there is a growing trend that merits more consideration in our community, one that may not have crossed your mind until now.

The growing data surrounding a connection between problem gambling and mental health challenges.

Both issues have separately made local, state, and national headlines. As gambling becomes more common and accessible, we’re starting to realize a strong connection between a person’s mental health and gambling activity.

How does this happen? A quick lesson on brain science.

When faced with stress, the brain produces dopamine to create short-term pleasure. It’s kind of like watching an action movie and being on the edge of your seat. In moderation, it’s great. In excess, the brain craves more and more excitement to produce dopamine – which isn’t good for anyone.

Stress levels are higher right now. COVID, working from home, schooling changes, social isolation, and countless other variables have made many of us “hungry” for pleasure.

Gambling provides that short term satisfaction. What most gamblers don’t know is that short term relief can have long term consequences. Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to dopamine. That means the big win feels smaller; the urge to keep gambling grows. It’s the beginning of what can be a cycle of addiction.

One of 10 adult Ohioans are at-risk of having a problem with gambling. And 26 percent of the state’s problem gamblers said they experienced “serious depression” in the last year. For non-gamblers, that number was 15 percent. Clearly, gambling, anxiety and depression can layer on for some people leading to more serious behavioral and physical health issues.

This impacts every Ohioan, whether you know It or not. Indiana University researchers found problem gamblers had increased feelings of isolation and relationship tension with spouses, children, and parents. Among a gambler’s family and friends, nine out of ten people said they felt additional social and emotional stress.

This growing connection between problem gambling and mental health challenges prompted Ohio for Responsible Gambling, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio (NAMI Ohio) and Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO) to announce their joint awareness campaign as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. Ohio for Responsible Gambling is comprised of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), Ohio Casino Control Commission and the Ohio Lottery Commission.

Our ask is simple:

For those who know a problem gambler, understand the common signs of anxiety and depression. This could range from excessive worrying to extreme mood changes to problems concentrating or learning. Anyone can visit https://namiohio.org/resources to get started and find local resources.

For those who know someone who seems to be struggling, you should also know the common signs of problem gambling. This could include a higher focus on certain games, items and money suddenly missing, or unexplained mood swings. A quick trip to https://www.beforeyoubet.org/get-help/ helps find local organizations ready to help.

For every Ohioan, it is important to destigmatize behavioral health disorders, including problem gambling. These diagnosable and treatable disorders require vigilance and clinical care. When this care occurs, people recover and live happy and productive lives.

Mental health treatment and recovery is a process. We hope all Ohioans will use Mental Health Awareness Month to further this journey for themselves or someone they care about.

Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson Chief, Office of Prevention Services Bureau of Problem Gambling, Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

Derek Longmeier Executive Director Problem Gambling Network of Ohio

Terry Russell Executive Director NAMI Ohio

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