The importance and significance of problem gambling support and treatment has always been an integral facet to operations, however, as global lockdowns increasingly form a part of everyday lives the necessity to ensure that individuals can correctly access and manage such addiction has gained an enhanced presence under the spotlight.
Mobile apps are one such outlet that could be utilised to guide those in need on a path away from gambling addiction, and that is the aim of Dr Tejus Patel, a junior doctor working in the NHS and co-founder of RecoverMe.
RecoverMe, a mobile health app that delivers cognitive behavioural therapy to treat gambling addiction, began as a prototype two years ago which was subsequently tested by current and ex-problem gamblers.
However, the ambition to create an initiative that office a route to access immediate support began much earlier: “The journey of RecoverMe started two and a half years ago when we were medical students at the University of Sheffield. We met a patient who left a lasting impact on us. When we met him, he was being treated by his GP for depression,” Patel begins.
“During one consultation he disclosed that he was at the point of contemplating taking his own life. This was explored further with him and we learnt that his symptoms stemmed from problematic gambling habits. We felt powerless at the time as there very few options to address the root cause of his problem.
“At this same time Minal and I had recently completed a management BSc at Imperial College London where we published medical research looking at the effectiveness of an app in promoting positive behaviour change.
“Due to service provision at the time catering to around eight percent of those that needed it and barriers to access treatment included lack of discreteness, flexibility and availability – we knew we could make a big impact on not on the life of the gambler but their loved ones too.”
Before adding on how the app works and where Patel, alongside fellow co-founder Dr Minal Jain, hope to go with it: “One of the first tasks when making the app was to do a review of all the literature on the management of gambling addiction,” he continues
“We like to think RecoverMe has been made by those who are going to use it”
“What was apparent was that one of the most effective methods for overcoming problematic gambling habits was a therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy or in short CBT. CBT is a widespread treatment used to manage a variety of mental health conditions including addiction.
“It works by empowering an individual by understanding their thoughts, feelings and beliefs that lead to their gambling behaviours. Concurrently, individuals develop strategies to help change their thought processes and decision making.
“RecoverMe is the world’s first mobile health app that delivers a structured CBT therapy designed to overcome problematic gambling habits. The therapy is delivered via audio files which the user listens to.
“Subsequent questions help the user reflect on their own gambling habits as well as developing strategies. A key principle of CBT is the monitoring and feedback aspect and as a result of this within RecoverMe our users can monitor their daily gambling habits. We have also carefully curated Mindfulness exercises to complement the therapy as these techniques have been shown to better manage urges to gamble as well provide multiple other benefits in mood, decision-making and stress relief.
“We are able to deliver immediate support through linking users to the National Gambling Helpline as well as other self-help tools to manage acute urges to gamble and lapses in gambling behaviour.
“Support is a recurrent theme throughout the app because of its well-recognised impact on improving outcomes and reducing gambling related harm. Users are also signposted to other organisations that can help with issues such as financial difficulties, relationship breakdown and mental health support.”
With an insight into such issues first gained as trainee doctors, Patel explains how such close interactions helped shape the path now being trodden: “Another key reason for developing RecoverMe were our university experiences. Gambling is rife amongst university students with little support available for them. Adil, another one of our co-founders became aware of the problem when coming to learn that one of his close mates at university was in financial difficulties.
“Last summer we built a prototype and tested it with current and ex-gamblers, psychologists and psychiatrists. The approach behind this was to engage all of our key stakeholders early and understand their needs to ensure we catered to them. The group shaped the features of the app as well the content of the therapy and design.
“We are currently working with individuals from the experts by experience group at the Gambling Commission who are giving us unique insight and their perspective on how to improve the app. The version that will be released on the App and Google Play stores in September will be our third iteration already! We like to think RecoverMe has been made by those who are going to use it.”
As the discussion neared an end, Patel turned attention to the journey ahead and what message he would have to the many operators across the betting and gaming ecosystem: “I would ask every operator to look at their internal policies and ask what more can be done to identify individuals who have problematic gambling habits and how can they be further supported?
“RecoverMe is the world’s first mobile health app that delivers a structured CBT therapy”
“One of the key tools missing from operators’ support is access to therapy. Gambling addiction is a psychiatric condition but unfortunately very few individuals receive therapy to aid their recovery. Imagine if we left depressed patients to their own devices.
“One of the key reasons for the lack of individuals accessing a treatment pathway is because individuals are often difficult to reach. Operators know who these people are and taking proactive measures to helping them find support through services like RecoverMe will provide help to those who need it at a population level.”
To conclude, Patel identified four key measures that he believes could be adopted industry wide to help better protect players:
- Improving systems to identify problem play and empowering players to change by giving easy access to a variety of treatment options.
- Gambling operators publishing more data on the success of responsible gambling strategies. This way operators could measure up against one another and practices that are shown to be successful can be adopted quickly to protect as many people as possible.
- A review of marketing policies to ensure adverts are not targeted at vulnerable customers who could be prone to damaging gambling habits.
- The shift that I imagine will happen over the coming years will be a move from a treatment-based approach to a preventative one. Instead of supporting individuals when their gambling habits have been seen to be out of control, we must start thinking about how we can prevent gambling addiction in the first instance. Education will be an integral part of this.