Christopher Metcalf, Leon House: Social barriers must be broken on gambling treatment

The treatment of problem gambling requires a programme which has been tailored to each individual, explained Christopher Metcalf, co-founder of Anonymind and Leon House.

Opened in June 2019, Manchester-based Leon House Health & Wellbeing is a 23-bed purpose-built facility, focused on the treatment of problematic gamblers which prides itself on taking a different approach to more traditional treatment centres.

Metcalf told SBC that by partnering with Cognacity, a team of psychiatrists based on Harley Street in London, Leon House wants to break the barriers to accessing treatment by offering a programme which fits around each individual’s life.

“We initially looked at the conventional treatment of gambling addiction, but we decided that we wanted to break down the barriers for people entering treatment. You see figures being thrown around, ranging from something like 400,000 to 1.2 million problematic gamblers in the UK – but realistically, there is only a very small minority of people accessing treatment.

“We worked alongside Cognacity to work out why this is, and one of the main barriers to treatment was the length of treatment for problematic gamblers. In the UK, this can range from 3 months up to 12 months.

“From our perspective, if a problematic gambler has a family, a job or other commitments, it takes a lot for you to take up treatment for that period of time. It’s not convenient for most individuals to access the services available. So we want to break those barriers down.”

By using what he described as a ‘short-burst treatment model’, Leon House and Cognacity offer three-day residential programmes which give problem gamblers the opportunity to gain a full psychiatric assessment as well as working out key ways to manage their addiction.

Christopher Metcalf – Leon House

Metcalf explained that the key to the success of this approach is ensuring that there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ programme, but rather it is tailored each treatment programme: “One important thing that we have recognised is that a large number of people will come forward with a gambling problem, but 90% of the time, there are a number of comorbid issues that can be associated with gambling – including bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression.

“So ultimately, if we can get a full understanding of those co-morbid issues, we can support that individual by treating the right mental health issue as well as the right addiction from the very start. Our team of psychiatrists and psychologists can then collate the right treatment programme moving forward.

“So with the short-burst model, they come for an initial psychiatric assessment, followed by an intense three-day residential programme. Following that, they have a series of additional programmes which have been tailored to that individual – we didn’t want to take a ‘one size fits all approach’ because each person with a gambling addiction responds differently.”

This model has proven to be successful since its launch, with Leon House reporting a 100% retention rate from those who have attended the residential programme.

He continued: “The key to this has been making the programme both accessible and focused on the individual. It means that people don’t have to change their lifestyle or miss out on family time, and this flexible approach has worked really well.

“Feedback from the psychiatric team has also shown that this approach is benefiting the individual. The residential programme is teaching individuals to develop coping mechanisms that they can use in real life, allowing them to identify things such as triggers and take appropriate steps to deal with that.

“One of the issues that we identified with the longer residential programmes is that those who take part almost become institutionalised. If they stay there for 9 to 12 months, and then leave, they could be experiencing things like gambling adverts for the first time once they have had to use their coping mechanisms, and that can be quite difficult.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to prevent people from relapsing and ensure that they remain engaged with the programme.”

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