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It started with a small bet on the match on Saturday, but that occasional £5-10 accumulator soon became a weekly occurrence. And with time on his hands while on paternity leave, Steve* found himself spending more and more time and money betting online.
“The bets were never big – no more than £100. You hear stories of people betting thousands of pounds on a single spin of an online roulette wheel. That was never me. It was £5 or £10 here or there, but it became constant – day in, day out. It became a way of life. I can remember even at my kid’s or kids’ nativity play I was glued to my phone, checking on the score.”
Those £10 bets quickly added up. Anything he won went straight on the next bet, while most of the time he was chasing his losses.
“I felt like I had to gamble to pay my bills. I was in debt and the only way I could cover my bills was to hope for a win – which of course never came and instead I got in deeper.”
Despite confiding in a couple of friends who had urged him to seek help, Steve kept telling them – and himself _that he had it under control.
Ultimately, reality caught up with him.
“I remember it being a something or nothing bet. It wasn’t like I had a huge amount of money riding on it, but when I lost, it suddenly became overwhelming. The reality of my position caught up with me. I had loads of credit card debt and my house was up for re-mortgage so I knew they were going to look at my finances and it was all going to come out. I didn’t know who I was anymore _it just consumed me. I panicked.”
At home, alone, and unable to see a way out, Steve went to the garage and tried to hang himself.
“The pain of the rope digging into my neck woke me out of my panic. I just sat there. But that’s when I realised I needed help.”
“I didn’t tell anyone about my suicide attempt for a while, but I came clean about the gambling. People were shocked, but supportive. I had managed to hide it from those closest to me. My wife and parents had no idea – when I was sitting staring at my phone, they thought I was on Facebook! Everyone else just said they had no idea – that I had seemed so ‘on the ball.’ That surprised me - it was worrying that someone can hide what they are really feeling so well. I felt like I was barely holding it together and thought it must be so obvious but, other than spending more time on my phone, no-one saw any change in my behaviour. It made me wonder what other people who seem fine might actually be struggling to deal with.”
“I was really worried about my job. Policing is a community; I was worried once I told one person, the whole station would know. But my sergeant was really good and helped me to get in touch with occupational health and HR, but there was no pressure or threats of consequences – they just wanted to help.”
“If this sounds familiar to you, talk to someone. If you have to tell yourself something is under control, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to speak out. Now I have been able to deal with this, I’m a better dad, better husband, better police officer. Now I think more about what people may have going on on the inside. I’m the first to check in with people. And if I see a guy in the park just staring at his phone, he may just be on social media, but I’ll go and have a chat and ask if everything is ok – because that was me.”
“The experience has really opened my eyes to issues that may be going on below the surface, and how good people can be at hiding addiction - whether its gambling, drugs, alcohol – or other life issues. No-one can make you get help – but we need to get better at digging a little bit deeper to find out what’s really going on.”
*The officer's name has been changed to protect his identity.