Is six months without pokies enough to help people solve their problems with gambling?
Gambling Harm Awareness Week begins Monday, with a focus on encouraging people to speak out and get the support they need.
Ballarat Community Health, in partnership with other agencies across the city, is looking to spread its All In program, which presents lockdown as an opportunity to find new hobbies and get outdoors instead of waiting for gaming venues to reopen - this week, more banners will go up in community spaces featuring Ballarat locals.
On Wednesday, Ballarat Child and Family Services, or Cafs, will hold an online forum looking at gaming and young people, partnering with Moorabool Shire Council's Youth Services, with parents and kids invited.
Harm prevention worker Kate Diamond-Keith said the hope was healthy long-term habits could be formed.
"This is about trying to reduce the stigma around gambling harm, and the shame and embarrassment people feel if they're experiencing gambling harm," she said.
"It's not just about losing money, it affects people's self-esteem, their relationships, their physical health, all aspects of their health and wellbeing - so it's supporting people to realise there's no need to be ashamed about it, and to talk to someone, whether it be a family member, or a friend, or through Gamblers Help on the phone, plus Cafs has counselling services available.
"It's really a hidden thing in our community, so it's making it un-hidden - getting it out in the community so people can talk about it, share their struggles and what they're feeling, and get the support they need."
Cafs chief executive Wendy Sturgess agreed - in a statement, she said the event will also touch on cyber safety, managing screen time, and how to identify signs people are getting hooked.
"Talking is exactly what we need to do as a community to better understand it, break down stereotypes and misconceptions, and encourage those who are affected to seek support," she said.
"If you are concerned about your gambling or gaming, or someone else's, talking about it is a good first step. Talking and listening without judgement signals that it's okay for those affected by gambling harm to reach out, to share their personal experiences, and to seek recovery."
Ms Diamond-Keith added there was anecdotal evidence so far that habits were changing.
"Lots of people have more money than they had before, so they're financially more secure, and they're seeing the benefits," she said.
"It's made them feel really positive about themselves, and that's what it's about - especially for people who might be isolated or live by themselves, it's giving them ways to interact with people in the community.
"Now we can get out and about a bit more, it's getting outside, trying new things, and hopefully making them lifelong habits."
With the Spring Racing Carnival under way, many people who may have had problems in the past may be feeling more vulnerable - she encouraged offices which might usually hold a workplace sweep to try holding one without money.
"There's one Ballarat organisation where if you buy a cupcake, you get a horse, and it's not about winning money as a prize, so people don't have that drive," she said.
"Melbourne Cup Day in Ballarat is a public holiday, so maybe use that day to get outdoors, go for a walk or a bike ride, even walk the dog, instead of betting on horse racing."
IN THE NEWS
To check out an action guide with plenty of practical ideas for organisations, visit the All In page on the Ballarat Community Health website.
To register for the Safer Online panel discussion event, visit the Cafs Facebook page and click on events.
If you or someone you know is experiencing harm from gambling, or the gambling of someone close to you is affecting your wellbeing, phone Cafs on 1300 MY CAFS (692 237) or 5337 3333, or email email@example.com.
Gamblers Help: 1800 858 858
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