For students across the country, freshers’ week is full of exciting new opportunities. However, starting university also presents new challenges, risks, and vulnerabilities – including the potential for students to face gambling harms.
As gambling harms often compound with other issues faced by students today, such as financial pressures and mental health concerns, it is increasingly important that student welfare teams, such as those within Universities and Student Unions, have access to resources and guidance on gambling harms.
Personal finances can cause anxiety for students; research from Blackbullion highlights that 87% of students are worried about money, with students feeling they need an extra £548 a month on average to have confidence in their ability to complete their degree. Under continued financial pressure, it can be tempting for students to make up this gap with high-risk activities, including investing in cryptocurrencies or gambling.
The 2023 Annual Student Gambling Survey, produced by Ygam and GAMSTOP, demonstrates this; 71% of students have gambled at least once in the previous 12 months, with the most common reason for gambling being “to make money” (48% of participants). However, it is important to recognise that gambling is not a way to earn; only 11% of respondents reported winnings in an average week, whereas half of all respondents who gamble reported that gambling had impacted their university experience.
Of Ygam and GAMSTOP survey respondents who gambled:
- 13% reported having difficulties paying for food;
- 10% reported missing lectures and tutorials;
- 10% said gambling affected their assignments and grades;
- 9% struggled to pay for bills or accommodation;
- 8% borrowed money from family and friends to fund their gambling, and 6% took out payday loans.
Mental health and gambling harms
Excitement, curiosity, and peer pressure can all also influence students’ gambling behaviours, particularly when adapting to new social settings such as in freshers’ week. It is important that students are mindful of the signs of gambling harm, especially as young people can easily find themselves affected.
It’s also important that students recognise the effects that gambling can have on mental health. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, people who gamble at harmful levels are more likely than others to suffer from low self-esteem, develop stress-related disorders, become anxious, have poor sleep and appetite, develop a substance misuse problem, and suffer from depression.
The relationship between gambling harms and mental health is complex. Harmful gambling may compound with feelings of isolation and loneliness felt by some students and at the same time, poor mental health may make gambling worse.
Students may also struggle to talk about the gambling harms they experience, with practitioners reporting that young people are reluctant to talk about problem gambling due to perceived stigma.
How can Universities and Student Unions provide support?
GamCare operates the National Gambling Helpline, providing information, advice and support for anyone harmed by gambling. Our Advisers are available 24/7 for free on 0808 8020 133 or via web chat. Universities and Student Unions can support their students by signposting to GamCare, including through advertising the National Gambling Helpline on lists of welfare resources or in public spaces.
Equally, welfare teams may find GamCare useful as a source of information and guidance, such as in identifying the signs of gambling harm. This may include use of preventing gambling harms: framework for effective education, designed alongside Ygam and Fast Forward as a set of evidence-based principles to deliver effective gambling education for anyone who works with young people.
You may also want to refer students to any of GamCare’s partnerships and programmes:
- BigDeal is a dedicated site for young people aged 11-19 to find information and advice.
- We offer free GamCare resources ready for campus use.
- We also runs the Young People’s Support Service, with options for referrals and access to self-help tools.
- TalkBanStop is a partnership designed to deliver practical tools and support, including free access to Gamban blocking software and GAMSTOP self-exclusion schemes.
- GamCare’s Money Guidance Service team have also created self-help factsheets to help manage personal finances.
- Get a better understanding of your gambling behaviour through MyGamCare, full of free tools and resources for you to access: my.gamcare.org.uk.
Lastly, we always encourage young people to get involved with our Youth Advisory Board.