After losing her marriage, her home, being mired in debt and emotional turmoil, Nicola Jacques from Fulwood is determined to use her story to help others in a similar situation after new research reveals gambling involvement is back to pre-pandemic levels and an estimated 1.4 million people are suffering.
>>> Click here to find out more about the consequences of gambling in Preston
Nicola now works for the Beacon Counseling Trust, a local National Gambling Treatment Service (NGTS) provider, and has been instrumental in setting up a new one-stop service to help ‘others affected’ – people in a similar situation to herself. .
The NGTS works in partnership with the NHS and other organizations to provide free and confidential support by phone, website, face to face, group and residential therapy.
Last year alone, the NGTS helped approximately 8,500 people across the country, however, GambleAware figures show that for every person who receives NGTS support each year, nearly 160 others could benefit but are not receiving not the help they need.
The 36-year-old discovered her husband’s gambling problem by accident in 2017 after seeing a text message from a payday loan company appear on her phone.
It indicated that a payment had to be made and Nicola recognized the last three digits of the account it was referring to.
She said: ‘I thought ‘that’s strange, we don’t have any debt, and certainly not to payday lenders‘. I asked my husband and he said ‘don’t worry, c is spam “.”
But with the lingering feeling that something was wrong, Nicola decided to check their account online.
She said: “It sounds silly, but it wasn’t something I usually did. He did all the banking for the family, he made a lot of money.
“I tried to log in, but my account details weren’t correct, and that set off alarm bells. I took my phone to the downstairs toilet and checked in. re-registered for online banking while hovering outside.
“At that time, I saw trade after trade for different betting accounts.”
Tens of thousands in debt
Nicola said her husband mainly bets on sports fixtures and matches he would have no knowledge of, such as a Mexican Under-16 netball tournament.
Although she said her game has been going on since they met more than a decade earlier, it intensified between 2014 and 2017.
By the time she discovered the truth, 30% of the family’s income was spent on gambling per month, racking up tens of thousands in debt.
On one occasion, her husband applied online for a loan of £17,000 at 7.30pm, it was approved before midnight the same day and he spent it all in two weeks.
But because her husband refused to talk about the game, Nicola was forced to painstakingly unravel all the details herself.
She discovered that he had been burning mail for five years while working from home, had set up several email addresses and set up several loans, some in common name.
She said: “The amount of work to investigate all of this was unbelievable, and I was hampered by the GDPR, so I couldn’t talk credit to lenders on his behalf, and I couldn’t even cancel the subscription. Sky because it was in its name.
“All these red letters were coming through my door and there was nothing I could do.”
Nicola said the potential loss of her home was her worst fear and she eventually sold the family home and moved into her own house, but it wasn’t easy as the debt affected her credit rating for a loan. mortgage.
How did you not know?
“How did you not know?” It was one of the first questions the bank manager asked me and I wanted to die then,” she said.
“I felt like he was suggesting that I was complicit in it.”
She added: “There’s a total misunderstanding of how it works. Once a person develops a compulsion, it rewires the brain.
“There are no physical signs, and nowadays people carry a casino in their pockets. You have no idea how much a person gambles – they could do it on the bus, they could do it on the street. computer screen to work then to you.”
Nicola said her husband was in denial about his addiction and tried to get help for him immediately.
She said: “I recognized right away that we needed more help than just figuring out how to pay the debt.
“The other people affected are mainly nurturing people, we want to ask for help for our loved ones, but if this person is not ready to receive help, it does not mean that you do not need it. yourself.
“All of this made me sick. I completely neglected myself and I still had to manage the house, the work, the children.
“At first I went into fight or flight mode, autopilot, but it really hurt. I think the burnout didn’t really hit me until a year later. It was like grief.”
Nicola said she could easily spend four to five hours on the phone a day, having conversations with different banks, loan companies and government departments.
“No one had any understanding of gambling damage.”
She said: “All that help was there for him, but what about me?
“People need to be more aware. I also felt the stigma of it and there was very little help for others affected.
“With alcohol and drug addiction, people are more aware of the harms and who is at risk. So let’s talk more about gambling because it goes under the radar.”
She added: “My story is not isolated in any form.
“People don’t ask for help with gambling, but they show up at housing offices when they can’t pay their rent, they go to their GP with anxiety and depression because they feel helpless. to their situation, they get debt plans.
“Society allows people to continue playing rather than seek help.”
Beacon Advisory Trust
Nicola was able to access free, non-judgmental talk therapy from the Beacon Counseling Trust, and said she was able to draw an emotional line under things.
She added: “It also helped me to have a supportive family. But it changed my parents’ retirement plans, his parents.
“There is not a single member of the family who is unaffected.
“And I’m an educated person, I always ask questions, but some people aren’t like that, no fault of their own, and some people don’t have families that support them. So how do they go about face?
“All of these questions led me to work with the Beacon Counseling Trust.
“Now I am a Family Link worker, working on a new project especially for others affected. Alongside the free counseling services, there is a holistic support program where people can attend and experts will tell people about help or negotiate a commitment on behalf of others.
“We’re empowering people like me who felt helpless. That’s huge, imagine what that does for your mental health.
It gives you some control back and means you won’t have to sit on the phone for five hours a day like me.”
Misunderstood and underreported
TV doctor Dr Hilary Jones said: “Despite impacting a significant number of people, the harms of gambling are often misunderstood and under-reported. This is partly because the impact harmful gambling can have on people’s lives is incredibly varied, complex and too often hidden.
“Being one of the estimated 1.4 million people to suffer gambling-related harm could mean you could be dealing with a number of consequences that go far beyond just financial debt and could include loss of life. both mental and physical health.”
Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware, said: “For many years, the National Gambling Treatment Service has worked in partnership with the NHS and other organizations to provide free and confidential support that is efficient and easy to access.
“While we are proud to have enabled over 200,000 people over the past six years to get the help they need, we know there are many more who also need help. Our message to anyone struggling or worried about loved ones is that you are not alone. If gambling is taking up too much of your life, call the helpline or use online chat. , both available 24/7, and talk to the experts someone today.
Anyone wishing to seek help or support for themselves or others can contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133. The service is free, confidential and open 24 hours a day.