At least four people in Preston attempted suicide in just one month in despair over gambling addictions.
The shocking data comes as Preston’s Gamblers Anonymous has recorded ever higher numbers of people seeking help for problem gambling - some of them still teenagers.
Group leader Terry Kilgarraif, himself a recovering addict, said he has learnt that from mid-October to mid-November there were four attempted suicides in Preston related to problem gambling.
He revealed that one of these individuals, who was addicted to bingo and lottery, was told by a member of the crisis team that this was “not gambling”.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” he explained.
“We are getting 25 to 30 people coming to Preston GA meetings every week.
“It is rapidly spreading and now that people are getting more awareness and support we are seeing the true extent of how it’s affecting communities; it’s so serious.
“It’s really troubling.”
He is also seeing younger and younger people getting hooked on gambling.
Terry, who lives in Wesham and previously worked as a bookmaker in both Preston and Blackpool, revealed that in the last two months Preston GA has had a group of four teenagers come through its doors seeking advice and help.
Terry explained: “They go into bookmakers in groups on Saturdays to do their football accumulators, download the apps on their phones.
“But then they are opened up to it all.
“They are just starting to earn a wage, have little expenses, many live at home.
“It can get very dangerous.
“My parents used to bail me out and it was only when they died that I become aware of the consequences of my actions.”
Now Terry is using his own experiences to teach medical practices and schools about the risks of problem gambling.
Terry, whose gambling addiction saw him lose seven partners throughout his life and attempt to take his life twice, visited Issa Medical Centre in Deepdale in October where he held a conference for 14 healthcare professionals who serve the centre’s 25,000 patients across six surgeries.
At the meeting Terry highlighted what he says is the “gap in the healthcare pathways” and the “signs and symptoms” that come with gambling addiction, such as depression and suicidal thoughts.
Terry, 61, said: “What happens to people when they have a problem is they go to their GP when depressed or suicidal where they get treated for that.
“But the gambling addiction remains.”
For Terry, further pathways are needed to help addicts tackle the thought process behind what “made them become an addict” and what is stopping them from moving forward with their lives.
“There should be an assessment intervention to then help them stop and then make them aware of the illness,” Terry explained.
Terry revealed how those in attendance at the meeting were more than open to documenting gambling trends among their 25,000 patients.
Terry, who is chairman of Preston Gamblers Anonymous, explained: “They said they will ask questions about what people gamble.
“They already ask ‘Do you drink?
“Do you smoke?’ and now the doctors there have said there’s no reason why we can’t ask ‘do you gamble?’ as well.”
Practice manager at Issa Medical Centre, Ann-Marie Donaldson Nixon, confirmed that the practice is more than willing to support Terry’s campaign to streamline ways to help those in need.
Ann-Marie said: “We have an education session every month where we invite guest speakers in.
“We thought it would be quite nice to get patients in to talk to GPs about what services are out there.
“It’s quite nice to get the public and patients to talk to GPs about things that aren’t necessarily medical but come to the doctors about.”
Gamblers across Lancashire were estimated to lose almost £3 million on FOBTs during the 2018 Parliament summer recess.
The data, from the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (BACTA), estimated that some £400,000 would be lost in Preston in the 42-day period.
Meanwhile gamblers in South Ribble faced a loss of £204,953 and in Chorley £170,794.
Terry said: “Within a 500 metre radius of Preston bus station and railway station there is 16 betting shops with four FOBTs in each of them, three gaming arcades, one bingo hall, 21 pubs with gaming machines, and 34 lottery and scratchcard outlets.
“Since taking over Preston Gamblers Anonymous we have 22 active members with at least one year of recovery behind them.”
Issa have also backed Terry’s campaign, passing his details on at a November collaborative meeting where practice manager Ann-Marie met with 10 practice managers covering some 90,000 patients in Fulwood, Preston, and Longridge.
“I want to be a point of contact for anyone with problems,” Terry said.
“I don’t expect it to come overnight but I have gone into Issa now so I can use this as an example of the good my message can cause.
“I’m a problem gambler of 45 years. If I can stop someone else going through what I did then I’ve done what I set out to do. This is what I want to do for the rest of my working life.”
Preston-native Ann-Marie added: “We were talking about gambling and I said while you are here I know a man and sent them [Terry’s] contact details because the GPs here [at Issa] received it really well.
“One of the GPs was really interested who had a few patients stuck knowing what to do with the information out there.
“It helps to know what’s out there to point people in the right direction [to get help].
“When you reach crisis point it is a medical emergency but not necessarily before then.
“There can be help out there and speakers like Terry as points of contact to help.
“If people come and ask for help GPs want to give the help being asked for but if they don’t know what’s out there it’s a chicken and egg situation because no one knows what’s out there so how can they know where to refer to?”
Terry’s next stop is a session for Job Centre Plus off Ringway, Preston, on January 30.
Terry said: “Addiction can affect anyone. If they are looking for work and they have a compulsive gambling disorder some work will not be appropriate for them and they need to be not put in positions where they will be vulnerable.”
n Preston GA’s meetings are held in St Wilfrid’s Church Hall in Chapel Street at 7.30pm every Friday.