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Study finds link between gambling behavior and suicide risk in young adults

A new study from the University of Glasgow and City, University of London suggests that young adults who experience an increase in severity of gambling harm are 2.74 times more likely to attempt suicide than those whose gambling remains unchanged. The study, published in The Lancet Public Health, analyzed the responses of 1,941 young adults aged 16-24, surveyed twice over the course of a year (June-August 2019 and July-October 2020) to track changes in their gambling and suicide-related behaviors.

Escalation in gambling harm linked to suicide attempts

The study found that any escalation in the experience of gambling harm, regardless of someone's starting point, was linked to a heightened risk of suicidality. This suggests that gambling behavior is dynamic, and any increase in negative experiences due to gambling among young adults can lead to a greater risk of suicidality. Over the year, an increase in Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score of only one point or more was associated with an increased risk of suicide attempt.

Factors that partially account for the link

While young adults are likely to have a greater propensity for risk-taking behavior than older adults, including impulsivity and engaging in sensation-seeking experimentation, the study found that impulsivity, loneliness, low well-being, and anxiousness only partially account for the link between suicidality and gambling found in the study.

The need for quick identification and intervention

The study authors argue that their findings demonstrate the need to quickly identify those who may be experiencing greater harm from gambling and to intervene. To do this could mean routine and repeated screening is embedded within primary health care, social care, and other relevant public service organizations to allow effective identification and suicide prevention activities among young adults at elevated risk.

Recommendations for regulatory bodies

While government regulatory bodies require gambling operators to perform risk analyses of customer's data to identify those at increased risk of gambling harm, how this is subsequently carried out at a customer service level is unclear. The study recommends that if regulators retain this requirement, all industry staff engaging in customer interactions could be required to have regular, independent, transparent, and robust suicide prevention and intervention training. As a mandatory condition of licensing, this could replicate the approach used in reforms to the financial services sector.

Call for gambling to be recognized as a risk factor in suicide prevention plans

First author of the study, Dr. Heather Wardle, said, "Our study adds to a growing evidence base strengthening the argument for gambling to be recognized as a risk factor in suicide prevention plans. Gambling harms were referenced in Scotland's Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2022–2025, but much more needs to happen for this to become embedded in national approaches and policies."

Recovery and improvement are achievable

Co-author Sally McManus said, "This study, however, clearly shows that interventions that reduce gambling-related harm may also have real potential to reduce levels of suicidality in society. Gambling behavior is dynamic and needs to be monitored for signs of change. For many of the young people interviewed for this study, their harmful gambling behaviors had decreased over time. This shows how recovery and improvement are achievable, especially with the right protections and measures in place."

Call for support

Sir Louis Appleby, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester and Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group, said, "It is timely too—the Government has announced a new national suicide prevention strategy and problem gambling is certain to feature." Anyone feeling like they need help can reach out to organizations like the Samaritans for support. They can be called for free on 116 123 or emailed at

Journal Information: Heather Wardle et al, Changes in severity of problem gambling and subsequent suicide attempts: a longitudinal survey of young adults in Great Britain, 2018–20, The Lancet Public Health (2023). DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(23)00008-7
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