DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR

DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR: Why we really ARE gambling with the health of young people who are addicted to betting

Do you know how many betting shops there are between the train station and the hospital?’ a patient asked me the other day. I confessed I didn’t.

In fact, I’d never noticed a single one, although I’d been walking that route every day for years.

‘Three,’ came the reply. ‘And that’s not including pubs where there are slot machines.’

The man sitting in front of me had been referred for psychiatric assessment after he’d tried to kill himself. Yet he wasn’t depressed — at least, not in the clinical sense of the word.

He had tried to end it all because of his crippling gambling debts.

Gamblers who are depressed or desperate are frequent attendees at my clinics — and yet this form of addiction was never even raised, let alone discussed, at medical school or during training, writes DR MAX (stock image)

His habit had brought untold misery to him and his family. His wife had twice cleared his debts, only for him to run up more.

It was only after she kicked him out of their home that he’d promised to stop.

He returned a reformed character, but then discovered online gambling and the same pattern of behaviour started anew.

When their house was about to be repossessed, his parents re-mortgaged their home to help.

But still his gambling continued and the debts mounted. It was pitiful to listen to him. He felt utterly powerless to stop.

‘If you’re not addicted to it, you don’t notice it,’ he said. ‘But when you’re an addict, you realise that gambling is everywhere. You never seem to be able to escape temptation.’

Suicide seemed to be the only solution, the only way he could see of stopping his own torment, and ending the anguish his habit was causing to those around him.

His case is not uncommon, sadly. Gamblers who are depressed or desperate are frequent attendees at my clinics — and yet this form of addiction was never even raised, let alone discussed, at medical school or during training.

It’s not seen as a clinical problem and isn’t taken seriously.

This is wrong on so many levels.

This week we were given a glimpse of the scale of the problem with the latest figures from NHS Digital’s health survey.

Shockingly, more than half of adults gamble regularly — a proportion that has remained stable since 2016 despite a government crackdown on betting machines.

A recent research project conducted by Bristol University and commissioned by the charity GambleAware found that one 17-year-old boy in ten bets over the internet, despite it being illegal for those under the age of 18, writes DR MAX (stock image)

I’m no killjoy. It’s fine to have an occasional flutter. But I’ve seen how easily gambling can spiral into a serious problem that destroys lives and families.

As clinicians, we need to wake up to gambling addiction and fast. Brain scans show the buzz people get from placing a bet can be just as intoxicating as any illegal substance. And it’s a problem that is increasingly affecting youngsters — particularly young men.

A recent research project conducted by Bristol University and commissioned by the charity GambleAware found that one 17-year-old boy in ten bets over the internet, despite it being illegal for those under the age of 18. It is clear that for all its talk of ‘responsibility’, the gambling industry isn’t doing nearly enough to enforce age limits.

And by the time they turn 20, more than a third of this group are gambling online — rising to a deeply worrying 47 per cent among 24-year-olds.

In the wake of all this damning evidence, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has rebuked the betting giants for aggressively promoting their online forms of gambling. Quite right — but Mr Stevens should acknowledge that the health service is woefully under-resourced when it comes to tackling this issue.

There is just one NHS facility specialising in youngsters who are addicted to gambling. Most sufferers are pushed towards the charitable sector, which does an admirable job.

But should we, as a nation, be relying on charities to plug the gap? No. If nothing else, this week shows it’s a problem too big for the NHS to continue to ignore.

In a series of deeply moving images, photographer Léonie Hampton has captured the reality of her mother’s OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) which manifests itself in hoarding — filling scores of boxes that overrun the family home.

Her photographs document how, over several months, Hampton and her mother went through the boxes in an effort to tackle the irrational rituals and behaviours associated with OCD.

Increased awareness of mental health means OCD is now so familiar that many of us feel at liberty to claim we’re ‘a bit OCD’. Yet this diminishes what can be a debilitating illness that dominates not only the lives of sufferers, but their loved ones, too.

Mystery of pain and our amazing brains 

The idea of undergoing surgery while conscious and without pain relief is the stuff of nightmares. Yet this is precisely what some cancer patients bravely volunteered to do in a trial at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.

Instead of a general anaesthetic, they were given local anaesthetic and hypnotherapy — and it worked.

The report reminds me of the famous American battlefield anaesthetist, Henry Beecher, during World War II. He observed that injured soldiers sent home to their families often didn’t need painkillers, even if they had sustained horrific wounds such as lost limbs.

The idea of undergoing surgery while conscious and without pain relief is the stuff of nightmares. Yet this is precisely what some cancer patients bravely volunteered to do in a trial at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas (stock image)

This puzzled Beecher; he expected to require large amounts of analgesia just as he would for civilian patients back home.

He came to realise that, unlike the civilians he was used to treating, many soldiers considered a severe injury to be a good thing because it removed them from the battle zone.

Beecher was the first to document that pain perception is not simply related to the seriousness of an injury but to the circumstance in which it occurred — thus illustrating the power the mind has over the body.

All these years on, we still don’t really understand the mechanisms by which the mind appears to do the impossible. We have so much yet to learn.

The U.S. Government is making ten years’ worth of HIV prevention medication available to 200,000 people in a bid to deliver on President Donald Trump’s goal of eradicating the virus. In Britain, when it comes to HIV, we’re dragging our feet. We know prevention medication — known as PrEP — is more effective than condoms in preventing transmission, but the NHS has stalled on rolling it out. It is available in Wales and Scotland but, in England, PrEP is distributed via a drug trial because of arguments over whether the NHS or local authorities should pay for it. I’m wary of ‘lifestyle’ drugs being prescribed on the NHS, but PrEP makes economic sense because it is cheaper than treating HIV.

The homemade cure for a crisis 

The number of foreign nurses coming to the UK has doubled in just one year, according to the latest analysis by charity The Health Foundation.

Its report, Falling Short: The NHS Workforce Challenge, reveals that more than 7,000 nurses who trained abroad registered for work here in 2018-19 — up from 3,525 the year before.

Well, we’re going to need a lot more to meet that Tory pledge of 50,000-plus nurses. But rather than looking overseas to solve the crisis (and depriving other countries of much-needed clinical staff), we must make nursing more appealing to British nationals.

Axe tuition fees, reinstate grants for nursing students and allow accelerated, on-the-job training leading to a degree for healthcare staff or auxiliary nurses.

These are the policies that will help to deliver the extra nurses we’re promised and badly need.

DR MAX PRESCRIBES… NATIACARES HOLISTIC THERAPIES APP

Backed by the cancer charity Maggie’s Centres, this app suggests holistic therapies to help people cope with the physical and psychological impact of cancer. It provides tailored programmes of yoga, meditation, music and conversation to support patients through their ‘treatment journey’, and is a very welcome resource.

Backed by the cancer charity Maggie’s Centres, this app suggests holistic therapies to help people cope with the physical and psychological impact of cancer (stock image)

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