Gambling disorder needs to be acknowledged as a `mental illness'
THE Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland has called for gambling to be taken seriously as a public health issue.
The college said a gambling disorder can have a "devastating impact on individuals and families" and therefore, it has called on the Department of Health and the Department of Communities to work together to ensure there is a public health approach to gambling.
The call follows the Department for Communities' public consultation on the issue which found respondents were in favour of a relaxation of laws.
The first reform of legislation in 35 years could see bookmakers being allowed to open on Sundays and Good Friday.
It comes as a study shows that Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of gambling in the UK.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, those addicted to gambling can suffer from depression, anxiety disorders and other serious mental health conditions.
However, treatment options to prevent gambling addictions in Northern Ireland are limited.
The college said services should also be developed to support those with a gambling addiction.
Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Consultant Psychiatrist and spokeswoman on behavioural addictions, said: "Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of gambling in the UK so it's concerning that there are still no specific services in place for those in need of treatment for gambling disorder.
"The consultation has looked at extra opening times and new technology but there has been little consideration of gambling as a public health issue," she said.
"Gambling disorder has a devastating impact on individuals and families. People feel trapped and sometimes their gambling can get out of control leading to severe mental illness as well as suicidal thinking".
Professor Bowden-Jones added: "We need to acknowledge gambling disorder as a mental illness and treat it accordingly, in an evidence-based way within an NHS setting.
"There will be thousands of people out there in urgent need of help. We must do all we can to provide them with the treatment they deserve".