RecoverMe: Using mHealth to support problem gambling treatment

Easy access to problem gambling treatment has become somewhat of a priority, and mobile apps can ensure that individuals can manage and treat their gambling addiction.

Dr Minal Jain and Dr Tejus Patel, co-founders of RecoverMe, sat down with SBC to discuss how cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and industry collaboration can effectively support individuals in overcoming barriers to treatment.

SBC: Firstly, can you tell SBC readers a little about the RecoverMe app? What was the thought process behind it?

RecoverMe, which will be available on App and Google Play stores in September, is a novel and innovative mobile application for problem gamblers or those at risk of suffering from a gambling addiction. It has been made in consultation with psychiatrists, psychologists and ex and current problem gamblers who have all shaped the therapy, features and design. It helps individuals better manage their gambling addiction.

The core feature of the app is that it is delivers cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The mobile app takes users through a structured therapy programme which empowers them to change the way they think, feel and behave towards gambling. In addition to this, the app offers curated mindfulness as this has been shown to be effective in reducing money spent on gambling and general wellbeing.

Other key features include: a self-monitoring diary that allows users to track their progress and identify patterns to their gambling habits; an emergency section that provides the user with immediate help wherever and whenever they require it and support from each other and other organisations.

Problem gambling is often considered a ‘hidden addiction’ and is defined as an addiction to gambling that damages or disrupts personal, family or recreational pursuits. We were inspired by a gentleman we encountered through our medical placements, who had been suffering for years and disconnected with his family and was struggling to hold down a job and even contemplated taking his own life. So, we wanted to leverage the power of mobile health technology to create an innovative solution for gamblers, particularly, those at low to moderate risk.

SBC: Your website talks about the importance of mindfulness and CBT – can you explain why you chose these methods as key ways of addressing gambling addiction?

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is the most effective treatment for managing a gambling addiction. It has extensive research supporting its effectiveness. It empowers the individual to change the way they think, feel and behave towards gambling which is crucial when overcoming this addiction.

CBT has been shown to reduce the frequency and the severity of gambling. It has been successfully utilised to manage a number of other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness is beneficial with reducing the urge to gamble leading the less gambling activity. Additionally, mindfulness improves an individual’s overall wellbeing – particularly their ability to cope with their emotions which can be a significant trigger when gambling.

SBC: From a personal point of view, has your experience as a doctor within the NHS shaped the way in which you approach the treatment of problem gambling? Has your app taken more of a scientific approach?

At medical school, we are witnessing the devastating effects that problem gambling has on an individual’s life. In fact, individuals often present to their GP with mental or physical health issues that are a direct consequence of their gambling habits. We found that the general awareness within the medical field was limited. Therefore, through our application we hope to increase this awareness by integrating within NHS services.

Our application considers evidence-based therapy as a fundamental requirement and the evidence for CBT’s effectiveness in managing a gambling addiction is extensive through research and users who have undergone this treatment. However, developing an application which had its users interests above all was essential for us. Therefore, we formed a group of advisors who provided feedback on version 1 of our app. Interestingly, we were called Bet On Me previously, but we iterated our name, content and user interface based on input from ex and current problem gamblers.

SBC: What barriers do you overcome with this mHealth app?

We were inspired to create a solution that offered an opportunity to access discrete help due to the stigma associated. We felt as though this contributed significantly to an individual’s desire to seek help and therefore, providing a management tool at their fingertips seemed like the most appropriate solution. Individuals have the ability to gamble everything away on their phone and we felt it was only right that they also had an opportunity to seek help from their mobile phone. An application like this can be integrated into every user’s lifestyle and therefore, the flexibility is something we hope will allow for continued engagement.

SBC: What more can betting companies do to ensure that their players are protected as much as possible?

Betting companies are becoming more proactive in this space to protect their more vulnerable customers, but this needs to continue on a larger scale. Each company’s responsible gambling policies and strategies are being scrunitsed like never before, and more money has been pledged to support prevention, education and treatment. This is a good start.

In terms of player protection, the first step will always be identification of those who have problematic gambling habits. Once identified, the second step is empowerment. We believe operators should be playing a larger role in providing their users with the tools to stop gambling.

A key part of that is accessing therapy, which gives them the ability to take back control. Coupled with this is easy access to services that provide a barrier to gambling. Another important area of focus should be identifying at risk users and taking a more preventative approach to help individuals before their gambling habits spiral out of control.

This is where RecoverMe can be very useful as it is a scalable and easily accessible option that can be rolled out at a population level. We are working with operators to increase the number of those with problematic gambling habits accessing therapy as only a tiny fraction of individuals currently access any form of help.

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