When Peter Keogh talks about gambling addiction, it is time to listen and learn.
He knows all too well the tragic toll that the problem can take on families, after his son, Lewis, ended his own life aged 34.
One of Peter’s main areas of concern as he and wife Sadie work to stop others suffering the same fate is the support available to people hooked on gambling.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post earlier this month, he said that when an addict seeks medical help, GPs will often prescribe “tablets for stress or something” when what the person actually needs is “a lot of very specific counselling from a very well trained counsellor”.
Encouragingly, however, more assistance is on its way for men and women who, like Lewis, are locked into a cycle of despair, with the first NHS clinic outside London for people with gambling addictions set to open in Leeds later this year.
Services at the NHS Northern Gambling clinic will be delivered by Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and GamCare, described as a “leading provider of information, advice, support and free counselling” on problem gambling.
And the man who will be the centre’s clinical lead has now spoken exclusively to the YEP about preparations for its opening in the spring.
Matthew Gaskell, a consultant psychologist for addiction services at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the level of support we’ve received since we announced the clinic in November.
“It has generated tremendous interest and we’ve received messages of support locally, nationally and internationally from those with gambling problems, those in recovery, and from families who are struggling to cope with a loved one’s gambling addiction.
“We’ve heard from people with lived experience who want to make a contribution to the clinic, there has been continued interest from local and national media, and we’ve had lots of mental health professionals who are interested in working with us get in touch.
“Late last year, I met MPs, Ministers and Lords at the House of Commons, and they were all very supportive of the work we’re doing in Leeds.
“We’ve also had a message of support from football legend Tony Adams, who founded the Sporting Chance Addiction Clinic, who’s said he’d be willing to visit when we’re open.”
Psychiatrists and psychologists at the Leeds clinic – which is getting £1.2m in funding each year from the national GambleAware charity – will work with patients whose lives are being wrecked by “severe or complex” issues with gambling.
Training and support will be given to primary care and council workers, with efforts being made to reach out into the community to try to help groups of people – such as those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – who are traditionally less likely to seek treatment for gambling addiction.
“It’s becoming more and more clear that people recognise how important the clinic will be for the region and that it is much needed,” said Matthew.
“We’re expecting the clinic to be very busy when it opens and we are looking forward to getting started so we can begin to turn lives around.
“Those with gambling addiction problems and their families will be in safe hands.”
The go-ahead for the scheme followed research which showed the rate of problem gambling in Leeds is roughly twice the national average.
Leeds Beckett University’s research also found that as many as eight per cent of people in the city were either problem or ‘at risk’ gamblers.
As previously reported by the YEP, Lewis Keogh took his own life in 2013.
Originally from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, Lewis did a degree in sports science at Teesside University and, after a short spell back at home, moved to Leeds.
He spent nine years in the city and, at the time of his death, was working as a facilities manager and living in Burley.
Lewis never told his friends or family about his problems with gambling and it was not until after his death that it emerged he had run up debts of £50,000 while feeding his habit.
His old amateur football club, Headingley AFC, recently announced a shirt sponsorship partnership with a charity called Gambling With Lives.
And since Headingley’s players wore their new kit for the first time last weekend, a number of other clubs have expressed an interest in helping to spread the word about the dangers of gambling.
Headingley chairman Callum Butcher told the YEP: “The response we have had has been incredible and we continue to receive messages of support and positive feedback.
“The partnership with Gambling With Lives has captured the public’s imagination and there are already a number of amateur clubs across the country who are hoping to follow our lead.
“The exposure this initiative has got has far exceeded our expectations and we are now determined as a club to use this coverage to continue to raise awareness of the problems associated with gambling.”