Northern Ireland news

Bereaved families launch pioneering gambling education programme at Stormont

Pete and Sadie Keogh who lost their son, Lewis, to suicide after a gambling addiction talk at Stormont at the launch of Gambling with Lives. Picture by Hugh Russell

BEREAVED families whose children have died through gambling-linked suicides have launched a new education programme to alert young people to the dangers of addiction.

One couple from Co Fermanagh yesterday told of their harrowing experience after only finding out about their's son's addiction in a suicide note following his death in 2013.

Peter and Sadie Keogh from Enniskillen, whose son Lewis (34) who took his own life, described finding their son's letter, "telling us that he needed some peace, addiction is cruel, and he outlined it".

The couple said they believe "appropriate gambling education could save many lives every year in Northern Ireland".

They have spoke out about their tragedy in a bid to raise awareness of gambling addiction, as a pilot education programme in schools was launched by the charity, Gambling With Lives.

The programme was created by experts on gambling harm, academics, teachers, award-winning film-makers and people with lived experience of gambling harm, it aims to influence the way gambling awareness education is delivered to young people and address the lack of information and help currently available.

It will be piloted in schools in Northern Ireland, before being rolled out across Britain.

The programme was unveiled yesterday at Stormont with Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan, who last year revealed he had been battling a gambling addiction that cost him more than £100,000, among those who spoke at the event.

Northern Ireland has a higher rate of gambling disorder than any other UK region, with up to 2.3 per cent of the adult population addicted to gambling.

There are around 250 - 650 gambling-related suicides each year across the north and Britain, with people addicted to gambling up to 15 times more like to take their own lives than members of the general population.

When Lewis Keogh died his family and close friends had no idea about his problem.

They believe his addiction began when he was just 13 playing slot machines while he waited to get a bus home from school and the extent of his gambling only came to light following his death.

His parents hope the campaign will help educate young people about the risks of gambling and avoid other parents suffering the same loss.

Ms Keogh said: "Children are taught about the dangers of alcohol, drugs and smoking; they are told about road safety and sexual predators, but no-one tells them about the gambling industry and its most dangerous products, or the harm that they can so easily inflict.

"Appropriate gambling education could save many lives every year in Northern Ireland, where we have high levels of gambling disorder, and the relevant treatment is difficult to access, when compared with drug and alcohol addiction."

Barry Fennell from Gambling with Lives said "gambling harm is a massive issue here in Northern Ireland".

“Our new programme has been specially designed to raise awareness in young people of the harm that gambling can cause, opening the door for conversations with them, as opposed to just waiting for the harm to occur," he said.

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