Any door is the right door

by Brenda McQuillan, Pūkenga Manaaki (Whānau Navigator - Mental Health)

Brenda McQuillan with Dr. Lance O'Sullivan at the International Gambling Conference 2018 in Auckland

Brenda McQuillan with Dr. Lance O'Sullivan at the International Gambling Conference 2018 in Auckland

I attended the International Gambling Conference 2018 in Auckland a couple of weeks ago.  The theme of the conference was ‘Flipping the iceberg on gambling harm, mental health and co-existing issues’.  The theme was chosen to reflect the complexities of gambling harm with the iceberg analogy used to portray how important it is to look at "what lies below the surface, as well as what is presented on top".  Gambling harm rarely occurs in isolation.  Rather, one of the key features of gambling problems is co-morbidity with a range of harmful behaviours, environmental or situational factors, or poor mental health such as depression. 

As a former problem gambler, I can attest to the truth of this.  I suffered from depression, I gambled as a form of self-medication, the harm my gambling caused made me more depressed, I gambled more and so a downward spiral began.  What saved me was counseling and self-exclusion. 

I have been a problem gambling consumer advisor for 14 years, a member of various DIA and MOH ministerial advisory committees, and taken part in drafting MOH strategic plans around problem gambling harm minimisation and prevention.

I am passionate about reducing the harm caused by pokie machines in our communities. Māori and Pasifika are grossly over-represented in problem gambling harm statistics.

Attending the conference gave me the opportunity to bring myself up to date with current research and treatment programmes. 

Dr Lance O’Sullivan was one of the keynote speakers and he spoke about ‘Pokies and Poverty, why you can’t address one without tackling the other’.  His speech was moving and personal, he spoke of the gambling harms he had witnessed first-hand.

I also moderated a ‘Lived Experience Panel’.  This panel was made up of three brave problem gamblers who told their stories openly and honestly. One wahine from Tauranga was especially affecting.  She talked about how when she first sought help with her problem gambling the first counselor/clinician she saw said, after she had opened up to them, “you have a lot going on, don’t you?”  That sounds like a pretty innocuous statement but sadly this wahine heard, “you’re way too hard to fix”, so she left feeling more lost and isolated.  She stated she was more than her diagnosis, more than ‘just’ a problem gambler and when she found the right counselor/clinician that recognised this with her, she began her journey back to wellness.  I have moderated these panels before and they never fail to touch me.

Although we do not have problem gambling contract, as a health provider I think we can keep problem gambling as an issue for our whānau in our minds.  As the title of my piece says, ‘any door is the right door’.  It is important to identify the right referral pathway, not the treatment.

I facilitate a Problem Gambling Support Group that meets every second Wednesday at 7.00 pm at The Male Room, 28 St Vincent Street, Nelson.