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Prevent gambling-related suicides, Bishop of St Albans urges Government

26 November 2021

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ADDICTION to gambling should be on a list of contributory factors that a coroner must consider for a suicide verdict: the information would help strategies aimed at reducing deaths, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, told the House of Lords last Friday.

Dr Smith, who has long campaigned on the problem of gambling addiction, was introducing a Bill to impose a legal requirement on a coroner or jury to record an opinion on any factors relevant to a suicide, and that explicit consideration be given to whether the deceased had an addiction to gambling.

At present, coroners may record factors relevant to a suicide, but are not required to do so. “Since it is not legally required, there exists an inconsistency in how suicides are registered,” Dr Smith said

He told peers that, by collecting information on the underlying factors that caused suicide, “prevention efforts by the Government can therefore be targeted at the underlying risk factors which cause suicides and allow for better interventions for those characterised as at risk.”

He continued: “Having spoken many times on suicides due to gambling-related harm, again and again I have heard the Government say that they do not have reliable statistics, and I keep asking them to help us to get some. Absolutely nothing has come back.”

He pointed out that coroners could refer to an approved list of relevant risk factors underlying a suicide, ranging from financial or marital difficulties to mental- and physical-health problems or being under investigation for criminal matters, “but conspicuously missing from these options is gambling-related harm”. Yet, according to Public Health England’s evidence review, gambling harm was estimated to be responsible for 409 suicides annually — nearly eight per cent of the recorded suicides in 2020.

The figures should be collected and published anonymously, which would be invaluable to the Government’s strategy to reduce the number of suicides, Dr Smith said. The Bill “would be a great asset to the Government’s suicide-prevention efforts. I hope it will allow us to give much more support and earlier intervention to those who are at risk of suicide.”

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