Innovation within the responsible gambling sector is more important now than ever before, as people turn to gambling during the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. One tool revolutionising the way in which support can be accessed is RecoverMe, a mobile application designed to help those suffering with a gambling addiction.
As part of our Safer Gambling Week campaign we have reached out to industry specialists to get their views into responsible gambling. We spoke to Dr Minal Jain, one of the founders of RecoverMe, about the launch of the application, how gambling problems can be managed, and the partnership between RecoverMe and Southampton FC.
Read the full interview below.
OB: What inspired you to create the RecoverMe app?
Dr Jain: It was really inspired by an individual we met at university, we were medical students at the time in a General Practitioner setting. The individual presented to his GP with low mood, and was struggling with a lot of his daily activities. The advantage of being a student is that we get a lot longer with patients and we’re able to understand their journey a little bit more, and we found that this is particular individual had started gambling at university with a couple of pounds on the local football team in a social setting, until it slowly manifested in all parts of his life.
By the time he was at the GP he had relationship breakdowns, was struggling to hold down a job, and had a number of other financial stresses. We were quite taken aback by how destructive this addiction can be.
As doctors we like to give patients options and at that time there wasn't much available. One of the other founders and I had published some research when we were in London, looking into mobile health technology, and we thought there was a real opportunity to get a solution out to individuals right to their phone. We created version one and tested it with the help of advisors who looked at the user journey and gave us feedback and we were ultimately able to put out version 2 which you can now download from the app store.
OB: What is the advantage of RecoverMe being a mobile application?
Dr Jain: Accessibility is one of the biggest things we push. When you look at other services available there are waiting lists and sometimes getting to appointments can be a barrier too, both financially and timewise. And with appointments you are restricted to other people’s schedules, whereas with an app you can access the therapy and mindfulness sessions at your chosen time, and tailor it around your life.
The other advantage is that it avoids the stigma, which we found to be the biggest barrier to treatment. Stigma surrounding this addiction would stop people from accessing treatment they desperately need, so with the app we have tried to preserve anonymity. The name ‘RecoverMe’ is generic; if someone saw it on your phone they won’t necessarily associate it with gambling. Hopefully in time we can reduce the stigma and raise awareness.
The other thing we try to do is offer ways to manage urges and lapse. In the acute phase of the addiction, urges can be most difficult to manage so we have a little section called the SOS tab so that individuals who are struggling can access help and engage with our mindfulness techniques in order to make a more informed choice.
OB: What is the benefit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Dr Jain: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, has an extensive evidence base, not just with gambling addictions, but throughout the entire field of mental health. It works by empowering the individual to change how they think, feel and behave and has been successfully used in a number of conditions such as depression and anxiety.
We chose it for treating gambling addiction because the research is there, it is shown to be effective, and has been delivered face-to-face through the NHS for a number of years. That’s not to say there aren’t other really effective treatments or that CBT will work for everyone, but CBT has the biggest evidence base.
OB: How are the CBT sessions specific to gambling?
Dr Jain: We employ the common CBT principles within our therapy but we have also gone and spoken to psychologists and psychiatrists to shape the therapy we provide. More importantly however, we’ve spoken to our users. We had version 1 of the app and we took people suffering from a gambling addiction, took them through the content and asked for their advice and feedback.
At this point we only had 5 sessions, but with the feedback we were able to add a new section on emotional regulation which was something we didn’t previously understand to be such a huge part of gambling addiction. Having the users shape the therapy and the content we provide has allowed us to be confident that the app is more relatable.
OB: Now that the application is live, will feedback continue to be used to improve?
Dr Jain: Absolutely. Being user centric is the most important thing for us, we are junior doctors but we are not the end users. We want our users to be able to relate to the app and we want to deliver a solution that is as engaging and beneficial as possible. The individuals who are already using our app are being asked for feedback too, and we have a really engaging Twitter audience providing us with advice on what works well and what doesn’t.
We are really open to feedback but that doesn’t just have to be from end users either. If there are experts in this field who have a particular opinion we are willing to take that on too.
OB: Could you tell us a little bit about your partnership with Southampton FC. What does it mean for the future of sports betting and the shift towards safer gambling?
Dr Jain: I think football teams have been under a lot of scrutiny lately, not all of which is warranted, but because of the way the system works. There is an acknowledgement that the exposure to betting and gambling through sport is ever increasing and becoming even more prominent.
Our partnership with Southampton FC has been really beneficial in the sense that they are extremely motivated to increase the awareness of safer gambling, using their social media platforms and advertisements on the LED banners on match day. Both of our aims are to break down the barriers and the stigma surrounding gambling problems and allow people to access the help they need.
The club's support has also allowed our users to access the app for free, and they’ve been very proactive in that space advertising our service. There are a limited number of annual memberships available for free with the code RECOVERME100.
OB: How and why does university lend itself towards problem gambling?
Dr Jain: Universities are great in supporting students when it comes to providing talks on drugs, alcohol, and safe sex, but when it comes to gambling there is a lack of information despite being an ever growing addiction. Gambling is very much embedded in the culture of university life though, when clubs close people might go to a casino to carry on partying. For the majority of people that won’t be an issue but there will be someone who has a problem, especially when you have new freedoms and more access to money in the form of grants and loans.
OB: What could universities do differently to support the move towards responsible gambling?
Dr Jain: What is really great is that there are so many organisations pushing for awareness and education in universities and secondary schools, and with talks given by people with real life experiences you can really engage. And it is a combination of awareness and education, having workshops, or even just having a stand at freshers week to increase the visibility of this problem.
In this way, you won’t just be supporting those that might be susceptible, you’re also increasing the awareness and reducing the stigma, and people will be more likely to spot worrying indicators in their friends and family. It’s not just on universities to make a change, but the whole country to make it their drive and mission to educate people and reduce stigma.
OB: Have your experiences working in the NHS since graduating shaped your development of the app?
Dr Jain: Working in the NHS, especially during this difficult time, everyone is so patient centered, making sure the patient’s best interests are put first in every sector. This is the same aim we have in our team at RecoverMe, if we are thinking about our users and doing what is best for them then they can achieve the maximum benefit. That’s always been a part of how we work, but as junior doctors working in the NHS now, the added responsibility makes it become more important than ever.
OB: How can your users access the app for free?
Dr Jain: The first month using the app is free for our users which is really crucial for us, as we want users to get onto the app, engage with it, and give us feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Our partnership with Southampton FC has also allowed us to offer a limited number of free annual subscriptions, using the code RECOVERME100, and we hope that as we grow we can partner with more organisations to be able to provide even more users with our service free of charge.
We also realise that while the app can’t be free to everyone, people may want to purchase a subscription for a loved one in need, so there is that option available too, though we hope that going forward there will be a drive towards more organisations jumping on board and sponsoring free licences to our users.
OB: How has the coronavirus influenced the need for tools like the RecoverMe app?
Dr Jain: On the practical side of things it has become more difficult to be face-to-face with counsellors and caregivers so we have, as a society, had to embrace technology and become more innovative. While this is a good thing in so far as it allows us to break norms and revolutionise the way we think and do things, for people suffering with an addiction the added stress and uncertainty of this time has been detrimental to recovery.
RecoverMe being a mobile application has meant that people who are in need of help have been able to access it from their own homes when they previously would have been without support while in person support has been put on hold.
OB: What kind of feedback have you received since the launch of the app?
Dr Jain: We have had really good feedback so far. We believe that even if we can impact one person’s life it will have been worthwhile. We are keen to have that positive impact and being able to work with the likes of Southampton FC and engaging with users on social media platforms has been really beneficial. We hope to be able to build on this momentum, to get our message out there, and continue to partner with more organisations.
So far we have had good feedback from more organisations so things look promising for the future!
A big thanks to Dr Minal Jain for speaking with us and giving us deeper insight into how RecoverMe can help gambling addicts. For more information about RecoverMe you can find the team at their website.
The RecoverMe app is now available for download on the Apple app store and on GooglePlay for androids and, thanks to Southampton FC, users can claim a year free subscription with the code RECOVERME100.
Hannah has written news articles and lifestyle blogs for three years. Venturing into the gambling industry Hannah is writing gambling content for Online Bingo and has written content for Lodgis Paris.
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