The gambling problem in Finland
Finnish people gamble a lot, and the level of problem gambling in the country is among the highest in Europe.
It is difficult to draw a clear line between recreational gambling, at-risk gambling, problem gambling and gambling addiction. It is estimated that as much as 18.3% of Finns aged between 15 and 75 engage in at-risk gambling, and for 3.3% this has already turned into problem gambling. If we assume that a person’s problem gambling also affects the well-being of 5–10 people close to them, the total number of Finns whose lives are negatively affected by gambling comes to around 900,000 (18%). It is estimated that around 40,000 Finns (1.3%) are diagnosed as having a gambling addiction.
According to a general population survey carried out in 2017, only around 2.2% of gamblers spend as much as half of the total money spent on gambling in Finland. The current trend is that the most active gamblers account for an increasing large proportion of the total money spent on gambling.
The gambling problem in general
What makes people susceptible to problem gambling?
- Starting young and social learning
- Interplay between genetics and environment
- Nature of games and game availability (speed, stimulating sounds, graphics and colours, bonus rounds, stimulants, flow of action, ‘near miss’ situations, internet)
- Erroneous beliefs about chance, probability and happiness
- Big winnings in the beginning
- Personality traits (thrill-seeking, unsocial, impulsive)
- Financial difficulties
- Loneliness, life crises and losses (divorce, unemployment)
- Sense of meaninglessness and lack of meaningful activities and pastimes
- Mental health problems and traumatic experiences (depression, anxiety, school bullying)
- Other addictions
Negative consequences of gambling for the gambler
- EMOTIONAL: Anxiety, lack of control, shame, regret, sense of failure, insecurity and vulnerability, sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, exhaustion, desire to escape
- HEALTH: Stress, insomnia, depression, changes in appetite, headaches, use of intoxicants, decrease in movement and exercise, self-destructiveness
- RELATIONSHIPS: Less time with close friends and family, withdrawing and exclusion, neglecting one’s responsibilities, lying and covering up, conflicts and arguments, threat of divorce or actual divorce
- FINANCIAL: Less available money, need to cut down expenses, use of savings and sale of possessions, overdue bills, loaning from others, instant cash loans and credit, debt problems and debt spiral
- WORK AND STUDY: Decreased performance, use of time for gambling, absences, arriving late, loss of job or study place
➡️A spiral of gambling ensues, with the person trying to solve the problems by gambling even more.
Negative consequences of gambling for close friends and family
- Emotional strain, including stress, restlessness, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and guilt.
- Negative health effects, such as sleeping problems, headaches, and back and stomach pains
- Relationship problems, including arguments, lack of trust, separation or divorce
- Financial problems, such as payment difficulties, gambling loans, or loss of creditworthiness
- Loss of home or apartment, or threat of such
- Concern about the health and well-being of the family member or close friend
- Emotional abuse and observed emotional abuse, or the threat of such
- Becoming a victim of crime (e.g. stealing)
- Negative impacts on work or study
How to talk about problem gambling
- Check your own attitude and try to remain neutral
- Show interest and ask open-ended questions
- Say why you are asking and wanting to discuss the topic
- Try to summarize the discussion at the end
- Give feedback and ask for the other’s opinion
- Keep in your back-pocket information about support and help services
Pelirajat’on: peer support and information for gamblers and those close to them
Pelirajat’on offers a wide range of peer support for those with a gambling problem and their close friends and family. Our goals are to improve the quality-of-life of problem gamblers and those close to them, increase awareness among social welfare and healthcare professionals about gambling problems and how to identify them, and develop the related services that are on offer.
Pelirajat’on is a nationwide project of the Sosped Foundation. The Sosped Foundation is a non-governmental social welfare and healthcare organisation which promotes individual well-being using methods focused on involvement, peer support and communality. The activities of Sosped are funded by the Funding Centre of Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA).
Pelirajat’on offers gamblers and those close to them peer support groups, online peer support and a peer support helpline, support persons, empowerment courses, holidays, discussion events and peer adviser training. In addition to all this, Pelirajat’on also trains and coordinates experts by experience.
Peer support in Pelirajat’on activities
Trained volunteers are at the heart of Pelirajat’on. These Pelirajat’on volunteers have their own experience of either having a gambling problem themselves or being close to someone who has. They can understand others through having had similar experiences and thus provide peer support. Such support involves people who have experienced similar things providing support and help to each other – sharing what they have learnt from experience.
A peer adviser training is offered free of charge to new volunteers. These trained peer advisers serve in many different ways and are a part of the active Pelirajat’on community. The activities of peer advisers are based on the idea that every person has within them resources and abilities for helping others in life’s difficulties. The help provided is thus non-professional support offered by volunteer advisers based on their own experience and the skills obtained from the peer adviser training.
Ethically-sound peer support of gamblers and those close to them is based on the following principles:
- Respect and equality. We treat people with respect and tolerance regardless of our differences.
- Trust and a safe environment. In our activities, we respect confidentiality and agree on shared rules.
- Valuing volunteers. All the activities are voluntary and nobody is forced to do anything. Our activities do not constitute professional work, care work, therapy or rehabilitation.
- Engagement and constructive interaction. We engage with people in an affirming and positive way, without criticism. We pay attention and actively listen, giving space for interaction and different opinions.
- Trust in the power of peer support and shared responsibility for the success of joint activities. Knowledge gained through experience is personal, valuable, and fit for use. Peer activities make it possible to openly engage with the other person. We learn together from different experiences.
“One group member said that they wouldn’t be able to stand it if everyone was just depressed and moaning about their situation. I’m pleased that the group is so talkative. Instead of just moaning, we take the bull by the horns – sometimes precisely through joking about it.”Peer support adviser
Pelirajat’on services for gamblers and those close to them
Peer support groups for gamblers and those close to them
“In the group I felt that I wasn’t alone with my problem and that I had a chance to move forward. What was best was the feeling that others truly knew and understood.”Peer support group participant
Pelirajat’on groups offer an opportunity to ease the burden of a life weighed down by excessive gambling. The peer support groups are led by trained peer advisers. The groups meet once a week for a total of 12 weeks and contain a maximum of 10 participants. The gambling peer support groups are intended for people who want to either stop or significantly reduce their gambling. In the support groups, the participants’ gambling situation is handled confidentially together with people who have similar experiences. Participants can receive advice on dealing with the issue and getting free of gambling.
“One at a time, people began to introduce themselves, and I found as I listened that I could relate to almost everything they said. Gradually the tension and fear began to fade away, and the room was filled with a warm, empowering sense of belonging.”Peer support group participant
Gambling problems always also affect the gambler’s close friends and family. In the peer support group for close friends and family, participants can gain understanding from those in similar situations and advice on coping in daily life and dealing with the situation.
The participants set their own goals and get to have a say on what topics and issues are discussed. The programmes for the groups involved peer discussion on different topics, working through different exercises and making use of different tools.
“The group’s peer adviser welcomed us all to the group and began to explain in more detail how the group works. They said that each person could say something about themselves and about their gambling background. No one has to tell about anything they don’t want to talk about. They were then the first to share, and the moment I heard their story I was entranced. How was it possible that they had thought just the same things as I had!”Peer support group participant
The purpose of a peer support group is to harness peer support in order to strengthen people`s resources and well-being, support them in achieving their own goals, seek out new activities to engage in, and generate hope.
Participants set their own goals and assess how much they have benefited from the group. In groups for gamblers, the goals normally relate to reducing gambling or stopping it completely, while in groups for close friends and family they normally relate to coping with a difficult life situation.
The purpose of a peer support group
Participants in the groups can confidentially discuss together with their peers the life challenges brought by excessive gambling. Participants can experience feeling understood by those struggling with the same issue and can receive advice for dealing with the situation, coping in daily life, and looking towards the future.
For all of us, it is important to feel heard, seen and accepted as we are. It often brings a sense of relief to get to know people who feel similarly oppressed by things left unspoken and feelings of guilt. These peers have experienced the same kind of things and therefore often understand better than others the nature of problem gambling or living close to someone with such a problem. The experiences, thoughts and feelings shared are familiar and understandable.
In Pelirajat’on, we believe that no-one has to suffer from problem gambling for the rest of their life. All are able to learn and change and to redirect their life`s course. What is needed for this is support, guidance and encouragement. Experiences of failure at giving up gambling or living as a gambler’s close friend or family member can drain one’s strength and belief in oneself. In such a situation, experiencing the encouragement of others and their belief in you can really help, as can being able to explore the situation in a peaceful, accepting environment.
Peer support by phone and internet
Pelirajat’on offers the opportunity to talk with peers either by phone or online.
Through the peer helpline, you can talk confidentially about the challenges brought by excessive gambling. You can book online a time to talk, and we then choose a suitable peer adviser for you.
“It was easier to talk about my difficult situation when it was anonymous and I was in a familiar and peaceful location. The person I was talking with really seemed to understand my situation, and that brought a sense of relief.”
The Pelirajat’on chat service is run by both former gamblers and gamblers’ close friends and family. The service offers an anonymous and easily accessible channel for talking about things.
Peer advisers participate in online discussions also through the OmaPeluuri service. In OmaPeluuri, you can talk with a peer adviser or professional and also participate in guided groups.
“When in the chat service, I have the sense that it’s a place where you can talk person to person. Anyone can come and join the conversation.”Pelirajat’on chat volunteer
Support persons offer one-to-one peer support for those in difficult life situations. The support persons are former gamblers or close friends and family of gamblers who have significant experience of Pelirajat’on’s peer support work.
The support person listens, supports, encourages and discusses. The support relationship brings hope and helps with clarifying the person’s life situation and finding opportunities for moving forward. The relationship is shaped by an agreement in which the objectives and methods for the support relationship are defined.
The empowerment courses are designed for those currently struggling with a gambling problem, those who have already brought the problem under control but are seeking further strengthening and support for staying gambling-free, and also close friends and family of gamblers. It is possible to apply for the course together with one’s close friend or family member.
“On the empowerment course I was able for the first time to express the thoughts that I have feared and been ashamed of so much that I wasn’t able to tell them to anyone.”Participant of the Empowerment course
The week-long course looks at the nature of problem gambling, gambling addiction and recovery, the role of close relationships and family relationships, the change process and one’s own well-being. Both the gambler and the close friend or family member obtain from the course new resources and tools for dealing with the situation. The course is carried out by Pelirajat’on employees and experts by experience as well as professionals from different fields.
“We came to the course as a couple. We both got a lot from it and, above all, we got a lot of shared tools which we can put to use. And we also got time together as a couple without the pressures of home life, with people who have the same problems and same kinds of day-to-day challenges. We can believe for a better tomorrow, and believe in ourselves.”Participant of the Empowerment course
The Pelirajat’on holidays, which are run twice a year, emphasise relaxation, exercise, and learning about health. The holidays are aimed at gamblers and those close to them who are seeking help and support for recovering from a gambling problem.
The diverse programme also includes an opportunity to participate in a daily peer group meeting that deals with problem gambling. The goal of the holiday is to strengthen understanding and recovery through discussing the issue. Throughout the whole holiday week, both a Pelirajat’on employee and a trained expert by experience are present at all times.
Pelirajat’on organises free discussion events in different locations around Finland. These events involve discussion of gambling and peer support and include a talk given by an expert by experience. The events are open to gamblers, their close friends and family, and professionals that deal with gambling in their work.
Pelirajat’on has already trained over 100 peer advisers in different parts of Finland, and these people are at the heart of our activities. Peer advisers have their own experience of problem gambling and recovering from it, or of living as a close friend or family member of someone with a gambling problem. As a result, they have valuable knowledge gained through experience and are thus able to support those in similar situations.
“Supporting and helping people facing the same situation through one’s own experience is really rewarding. There is always a really welcoming atmosphere in the trainings and joint meetings.”Peer adviser
New peer advisers are given a free training in which they learn about the Pelirajat’on operating model, the basic skills of a peer adviser, and the nature of problem gambling or living as a close friend or family member of a problem gambler. These advisers are all volunteers. After the training, the volunteers’ initial work as peer advisers is supported through regular work supervision and being assigned a experienced peer adviser as a mentor.
Those that have done the basic training are welcome to join the adviser community with its recreational events and further trainings which are held twice a year. Peer advisers have the opportunity to receive further training later on in order to become, for example, an expert by experience or mentor.
The peer adviser’s role
The task of the peer adviser is to use their own experience to help the group to support its members. The adviser seeks to bring to the discussion a positive perspective centred around solutions and resources. They help the group, the group members help each other, and everyone helps themselves.
The peer advisers always first receive training. They do not receive any payment, but rather offer their help as volunteers.
“Pelirajat’on supported my work as a peer adviser the whole time, walking alongside me and asking how it felt and what thoughts the experiences stirred in me. So I wasn’t left alone in my role as a group leader.”Peer adviser, mother of a gambler
Pelirajat’on regularly trains new peer advisers. Peer advisers are sought from among those who have their own experience of problem gambling or being close to someone who does. Candidates should also be of adult age, have a balanced life situation that enables them to support others, show desire and enthusiasm for participating in the training and leading their own group, and be able to commit to leading at least one group and receiving the related work supervision. Those leading peer support groups for gamblers are required to not have gambled for at least the previous six months.
Each person interested in being a peer adviser is invited to discuss beforehand the training, peer adviser role and their life situation. The decision about whether to participate is made together.
The peer adviser basic training provides the skills and capacities for being a peer adviser and leading a group in one’s own locality. After the basic training, there is also the opportunity to train to be an adviser working with the peer helpline or online chat service or to become an expert by experience or mentor.
Volunteer work and peer support activities are a rewarding experience in many different ways. Through your own experience and the example of your recovery, you can offer what every person in the world needs in order to keep going forward – hope for something better, hope that change is possible.
What can a peer adviser do?
- Serve as the group host, keep the discussion on topic, and remind participants about the core purpose of the group meetings.
- Encourage, support and walk alongside the group members, making use of one’s own experiences and acquired training and tools.
- Offer perspectives, questions, exercises and knowledge.
- Offer space and one’s own time for the duration of the group.
- Take care of practical matters relating to the meetings.
What can’t a peer adviser do?
- Take responsibility for whether people come to the group.
- Cure a group member’s gambling addiction, get them to stop completely, or solve the problems of a gambler’s close friend or family member.
- Bring about the learning, realisations, commitment or other changes on a group member’s behalf.
- Change a group member’s state of mind, feelings or experience of their life.
- Meet all the group members’ needs.
- Function as a group member’s therapist, doctor or sole source of support.
Experts by experience
We train and coordinate experts by experience, former gamblers and their close friends and family. Using expertise and knowledge learnt from experience, we seek to influence attitudes, increase awareness about gambling problems, and develop the services which are an offer.
An expert by experience is someone who has acquired knowledge through their own personal experiences. Through trainings and peer-led activities, these experts learn to structure and deepen this knowledge and put it to use for helping others.
“This year has been interesting. In total, I have spoken at around ten different events. Of these, the smallest audience was with a peer support group for gamblers and those close to them, which contained just a few people. The largest event was for social welfare and healthcare professionals, with an audience of over a hundred.”Pelirajat’on Expert by experience
Our experts by experience:
- know what it is like to have a gambling problem or what it is like to be close to someone who does
- understand the causes, consequences and solutions
- know what it is like to recover from such a problem and what things have affected the recovery process
- have learnt to turn their own experiences into resources that can also benefit others
- are ready to share about their own experiences with others.
Pelirajat’on experts by experience have completed the experts by experience training and have accumulated experience of providing peer support and advice.