Monday, March 12, 2012

Younger problem gamblers may not be stepping forward for help

SINGAPORE: What started off as playing cards in school for a 15-year-old boy, led to money changing hands outside of school and visits to online gambling sites.

The boy eventually gambled away his pocket money and even stole money from home on one occasion. He got hooked to the computer, skipped classes and began failing in school - that was when his parents sought professional help for the boy, although he did not return after the first session with psychiatrist Thomas Lee.

According to psychiatrists, youth social workers and the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS), cases of youth problem gamblers seeking help are few and far between. There is, however, concern that some youths are not stepping forward for help.

A survey on youth gambling conducted in 2007 of 4,500 youths aged 13 to 17 found problem gambling prevalent among 2.8 per cent of the group.

"Two equations are present today: Easy money and a materialistic world. When you take this combination, it's like a time bomb for our youths in Singapore," said Singapore Children's Society director of youth services Carol Balhetchet, who added that she has noticed an increasing number of youths addicted to online gambling, including football betting.

Dr Lee, who is also an addiction management expert, said youths may not seek help because their gambling losses are usually relatively small and can be covered by their parents.

The youths could also not recognise it as a problem, while some may also be dealing with several other issues such as substance abuse or petty theft.

There could also be denial by "the youths themselves and even by their loved ones", said NAMS counsellor June Tang.

NAMS has seen fewer than 10 cases of problem gamblers below 18 over the last three years, she said. They were referred by school counsellors, probation officers and parents.

With the Government announcing last month that it is looking to introduce more social safeguards against problem gambling, some noted the need for strategies targeting the younger set.

The Children's Society attends to parents seeking Beyond Parental Control orders and, according to Dr Balhetchet, one in five of about 500 youths taken by their parents to the Juvenile Court last year indulged in gambling.

Youth gamblers tend to do so online or bet on football. They face similar problems as older gamblers - the majority of whom are males in their 30s and employed - but to a slightly different extent, said Ms Tang.

Their betting amounts and losses may be limited due to lack of access to credit cards and bank loans, for instance, but youths may still face serious consequences like disruption of studies, delinquency, crime and even psychological problems like anxiety and depression.

Dr Lee said untreated youth problem gamblers are at greater risk of developing gambling problems when they enter adulthood.

A research paper published last year that he co-wrote reported that about three in 10 treatment-seeking pathological gamblers - the most serious of problem gamblers - were exposed to gambling before the age of 18.

Dr Lee advocated primary prevention measures for all schoolchildren, as well as targeted measures for groups at risk.

The Education Ministry has said it will be developing elements of problem gambling awareness and prevention through its core Character and Citizenship Education syllabus this year.

The National Council on Problem Gambling also has outreach programmes with the message for youths to stay away from gambling. Those who wish to seek help may call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1800 6668 668. -

View the original article here

Source From Chnnel News Asia

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