St. Michaels Researchers Launch App for 24/7 Problem Gambling Support

Researchers from St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, have launched a new mobile application to support people experiencing gambling harm. What’s particularly unique is was built to meet the needs of people experiencing poverty or homelessness in addition to problem gambling.

Designed in partnership with community groups and those with lived experience of problem gambling, the SPRinG app is a low-barrier, self-management journaling tool that helps users track and understand their gambling patterns and triggers.

The app does more, too, providing insights into user behavior. It will also help researchers assess the feasibility of using digital solutions to address problem gambling among the user base.

Problem Gambling Risk Jumps For Low-Income, Unhoused

Problem gambling is associated with various health issues, including substance abuse, chronic and mental illness, and disability.

Additionally, research suggests 58% of people experiencing homelessness or poverty may experience gambling harm. That’s nine times higher than the general population.

The new app allows all users to chronicle their gambling urges. It also has space to note the circumstances surrounding those events.

The app stores the information, and users can later review their behaviors, said Madison Ford, a research coordinator at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, in a Q&A accompanying the release.

The hope is this will allow clients to identify gambling triggers and implement strategies to manage high-risk situations.

The team behind the research includes Ford, research scientist Dr. Flora Matheson, and senior research associate Dr. Arthur McLuhan (MAP).

Dr. Alireza Sadeghian, professor of computer science at Toronto Metropolitan University, also played a significant development role.

When Gambling Urge Hits App Offers Up Alternatives

When users experience an urge, explained Ford, the app offers four alternatives to deter gambling:

  • Distraction
  • Contacting a friend
  • Alternate activities
  • Access to a 24/7 crisis line

Dr. Matheson said there are not enough gambling support services to meet Ontario’s needs. And what is available can often require a long wait.

From the release:

Our community partners wanted a tool that could bridge these services, and could be accessed outside of normal 9-5 business hours, when a gambling event is likely to occur.

This could be at 5 p.m., when a friend calls asking to go to the casino, or on the weekends, when support services might be closed. The app is always there in users’ back pockets, whenever they need it.

Additionally, added McLuhan, the app is inclusive of unhoused or low-income users:

We made sure that the language used and the strategies suggested are tethered to that context. For example, one strategy to manage gambling urges is to engage in an alternative activity – to keep busy. We didn’t suggest something like, ‘Go to the gym,’ as that may be financially out of reach for users. Instead, the app might prompt users to go for a walk. It’s important that we provide users with information and strategies that don’t further stigmatize them.

App Helps Fill Gaps in Problem Gambling Support Services

Initial funding for the app came from Ontario’s Ministry of Health.

It also received subsequent funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Specifically, CIHR’s Collaborative Health Research Projects Initiative provided the funds.

Such research is essential, said McLuhan, because it will help fill a gap in support.

To my knowledge, this is the first community-based, solutions-focused digital project that aims to fill a gap in support for people experiencing problem gambling, homelessness and poverty.

This is bringing support to people where they need it, when they need it. And while we recognize that this app won’t solve everything, it’s an important addition to the supports already available in the community.

Next up, said Matheson, is recruiting users:

The next step is ramping up recruitment and getting this into the hands of people who need it. We’re hoping that it’s going to prove useful. That’s the bottom line for me: Is this going to help people?

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, adventure, and hoppy beer.
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