Advice to gamblers: get help sooner than later

In recovery: Problem gambling counsellor Michelle Zavaglia with Matthew Aherne. Picture: Natalie Roberts

In recovery: Problem gambling counsellor Michelle Zavaglia with Matthew Aherne. Picture: Natalie Roberts

MORE than 140 individuals and families have sought help from counsellors at Wesley Counselling Services in western Sydney, an area covering the Penrith and Blue Mountains local government areas, since July 1, 2013, says operations manager Jeff Lucas.

CatholicCare Social Services saw more than 300 clients in the Parramatta and Blacktown LGAs.

"The typical client in western Sydney usually has adult children, tends to be in a relationship but not necessarily married or de facto," Mr Lucas said.

His service provides free and confidential gambling counselling, financial counselling and legal services to people dealing with issues arising from problem gambling.

A full-time gambling counsellor, a part-time gambling counsellor (four days) and a financial counsellor (two days) work from Wesley Mission's main office in 30 Copeland Street, Kingswood.

"A problem gambler will regularly be short of money even though they earn a wage and will borrow from others on a regular basis," Mr Lucas said.

"They might also become depressed, agitated and upset and report feeling hopeless or depressed.

"Poker machine gambling is the most widespread form of gambling seen by our counsellors."

He said problem gamblers consistently reported trauma as a child, young person or adult.

"For this reason, the Wesley Gambling Service is a recognised Trauma Informed Care Practice," he said.

In Australia, although heavy gamblers make up only 20 per cent of the country's gamblers, they account for almost 90 per cent of the total annual gambling spend of $16.3 billion, results from the Roy Morgan Gambling Monitor show.

Funding for counselling services comes mainly from the NSW Responsible Gambling Fund.

"The message is simple: if you believe you have a gambling problem or you have a family or friend struggling with problem gambling, it is important that counselling is sought earlier rather than later," Mr Lucas said.

Matthew Aherne lost almost $1 million on gambling in 18 years.

He destroyed four significant relationships, was stopped from seeing his two sons after threatening to take his own life, and lost his job.

But he didn't stop gambling until he ended up in hospital.

It's a date firmly etched in his memory: October 4, 2013.

That was the day doctors diagnosed Mr Aherne with acute severe depression and placed him on antidepressants.

"I started seeing [problem gambling counsellor] Michelle [Zavaglia] two weeks later," he said.

Through bi-weekly counselling sessions he has learnt to deal with the death of his sister 19 years ago.

Ms Zavaglia said trauma was predominantly a trigger for gambling.

In Mr Aherne's case, it was all forms of gambling — pokies, horses, sports, online, over-the-counter in pubs and clubs.

"I remember winning $20,000 from $1000 in about five hours one night online; in about an hour-and-a-half I had lost $19,000 of it," Mr Aherne said.

"Sometimes within an hour of being paid I'd gone to the club and lost it.

"When I stopped gambling I stopped watching sport and going into pubs and clubs to remove myself from any triggers."

He says he remembers getting his first taste of gambling on visits to the horse races with his dad as a 17-year-old.

"My father never bet over his head;

I was the opposite: I couldn't control it.

"For a long time my mother blamed my dad. I never did. I'm now at 7.5 months of no gambling.

"I'm seeing my children twice a week, rebuilding my relationship with my partner to whom I'm forever grateful for standing by me [and] I am back in gainful employment in financial services."

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