Inside Asian Gaming spoke with Mina Hazar and Adela Colhon, who run the Youth Gambling Awareness Program at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, about the impact of stigma on problem gambling at a recent seminar in Macau.
Problem gambling is a shared concern cross all spectrums of the gaming industry. Government and operators lead the way to minimize its impact on society by setting up laws, institutions, policies and actions, but the effectiveness of those measures is conditioned by one element of the equation that started to raise awareness recently: the concept of stigma.
Stigma is a term originating in ancient Greece where certain people – often criminals but also slaves – would be physically branded with burning metal on visible areas of the body so they would immediately be recognized by others.
In modern times, the expression refers to how we view those suffering the effects of addiction, mental health issues, problem gambling or other signficant issues impacting society.
“It’s an invisible mark but one we still apply with our judgments,” says Mina Hazar, Bilingual Provincial Director of the Youth Gambling Awareness Program at the YMCA of Greater Toronto.
According to Hazar, such stigma “leads to discrimination and these people are denied their basic human rights such as employment and housing. And the other problem is they are already isolated, they’re already suffering alone.”
This feeling of alienation acts as a powerful obstacle that prevents them from facing their issues, with Hazar describing it as “the number one barrier for seeking help when it comes to problem gambling.”
The YMCA of Greater Toronto aims to end such isolation, both in Canada and internationally, by raising awareness of problem gambling and the stigma that so often comes with it.
“We focus on what we can do to reduce stigma,” she says, explaining that the process involves “changing the language that we use describing the situation and then changing people’s attitudes, which then leads to changing people’s behaviors.”
The approach to problem gambling and stigma is to consider those affected to be suffering from mental illness, with their behavior a symptom.
“It affects the brain the very same way that drugs or alcohol does,” says Hazar. “In order to change behaviors we have to be kind, we have to ask questions. You have to learn more about the person and know if the person is having problems – maybe there are deeper root causes.”
EDUCATION IS KEY
While stigma is a burden carried by those affected by problem gambling, stigmatization is the attitude that initiates this process.
“We stigmatize people for the very same reasons that we feel stigmatized,” Hazar says, “so we have to be mindful of our own judgments.”
Adela Colhon, General Manager of National and Provincial Programs at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, highlights the important role of knowledge in addressing the problem of stigma and stigmatization.
“Coming from a healthy perspective, gambling should never be a problem,” she says. “It’s more about creating awareness, like ‘I know what gambling is, what I’m getting into’ and for those who find themselves in a problem gambling situation to know where to seek help and how to seek help.”
Beyond education, Hazar notes that problem gambling usually stems from a broader feeling of isolation. Referencing American writer Johann Hari’s theory that the main causes of mental illness and depression are the lack of connection and sense of purpose, she says “the cure is not sobriety in regards to any type of activity or behavior.
“Finding a connection and sense of purpose may take different shapes and forms for different people in terms of how they come and how they approach gambling.”