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31 January 2022
Recovery journey starts with taking the first step
Words Jessica Morris
Isolde Scherrer and the team at the Salvos Gambler’s Help service know that gambling robs people of their livelihood. Every week, they help people impacted by gambling to put their lives back together. The vast majority of those seeking help are gamblers themselves – but a quarter are people impacted by someone else’s gambling, and they are desperate.
Isolde and the team at the Salvos Melbourne Counselling Service prefer to keep the spotlight on their clients’ stories, and they are passionate about erasing the stigma that keeps people from speaking up about gambling harm.
“When clients do reach out for support, they are breaking the mould,” explains Isolde, Community Engagement Coordinator for Gambler’s Help City and Inner North. “More often than not we see clients when they are at rock bottom – when they are about to lose their house, relationship, job.
“We also see repeat clients who have relapsed. It takes courage for people to persevere on their recovery journey. It takes a lot of strength to open up your life and share your struggles, and to trust when feeling vulnerable; and that is the start of the recovery journey.
“The trend is that the people who experience harm from their own gambling often don’t recognise the harm they are experiencing or how their gambling is impacting others. It often takes a partner, family member or friend to point this out. We want people to seek support early when they notice signs of gambling harm in someone else or themselves.”
Situated on floor two of The Salvation Army’s Project 614 in Bourke Street, Gambler’s Help is part of The Salvation Army’s Melbourne Counselling Service. It offers free, confidential, financial, and therapeutic counselling to people experiencing, or impacted by, gambling harm. Most are referred through the Gambler’s Help Hotline and partnered Alcohol and Other Drugs Services, or are self-referrals.
In a city dependent on gambling revenue, it is a vital resource for locals. Many grapple with their own stigma against gambling harm – and that’s where the Melbourne Counselling Service’s preventative work plays a crucial role, reaching about 1000 people every year.
“I offer community education sessions to corporate and not-for-profit organisations, with the intention of starting a conversation about gambling harm [so we can] offer small ways that people and organisations can make a difference,” says Isolde.
“And we’re making a difference through our Schools Program. I talk to students about gambling facts, how much is spent on advertising, and spotting signs of harm. With all the gambling advertising around it provides the facts.”
This passion keeps Isolde and the team motivated as they help people overcome gambling harm every day.
“I know that the people we work with can experience positive changes in their lives,” continues Isolde. “For many, it’s about finding ways to minimise harm from their gambling. People gamble for many different reasons; sometimes it’s to find a community and belonging, sometimes it’s to escape difficult feelings or a difficult life. We explore ways that people can meet their needs without being worse off financially, emotionally, or socially.
“Every client’s journey looks different and some persevere, sometimes for decades, on their recovery journey. As our client stories show, for them it was worth it.”
Gambling harm isn’t isolated – 50 per cent of Australian adults gamble, and for every person who experiences gambling harm, up to six are impacted. It’s one of the reasons the Salvos have chosen to partner with the #RethinkAddiction campaign, which exists to change the conversation about addiction in Australia. And that, says Isolde, is also a vital message for the wider community.
“If you experience gambling harm, or are aware of someone else experiencing harm, please reach out for support. It’s available and confidential. And if someone doesn’t feel comfortable accessing counselling, there’s also peer supports, online chat and online resources.”
For more information, visit melbournecounsellingservice.org.au.
For assistance call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858.