195,000 people are registered on GAMSTOP, the free service aimed at helping those with a gambling addiction restrict online gambling. But in 2019/2020, only 9008 individuals treated within gambling services.
AnonyMind recognises the need for both online and physical support for those suffering from gambling addiction. And this is our story.
AnonyMind was launched in May 2020 by co-founding partners Andy Iddon, Chris Metcalf and Ryan Durkin.
Chris was already involved in Leon House Health and Wellbeing, a residential clinic for individuals on a gambling addiction recovery programme, when Andy had sold his digital business in 2016. Alongside helping out smaller agencies, Andy was seeking a passion project with a social impact. He approached Chris about investing in Leon House – the UK’s first 30-bedroom CQC and RET registered gambling treatment residential facility.
Leon House was successful in delivering short burst residential pathways (designed by leading mental health consultants, Cognacity). But it was trying to understand what it could do to improve the number of people, harmed by gambling, in gaining access to treatment when they need it most.
Chris says: “When we looked at how Andy’s investment might look, we began talking about a digital offering. We had noticed a trend in people struggling with an addiction who were initially reluctant to attend a clinic. We asked ourselves, what could be preventing these at-risk individuals from being treated? The stigma perhaps; having to confess to an addiction that can be generally secret and unseen. Or perhaps they can’t afford the time out for traditional face-to-face treatment. Or traveling to a treatment location was proving a challenge, either through mental health breakdowns or financial constraints.”
Andy adds: “We took all of these characteristics and designed the concept of AnonyMind, a digital platform to facilitate treatment anywhere, anytime, free to those who need it the most. The aim of reference to ‘Anony’ in our company name is to give individuals the confidence they can access this online platform anonymously, no matter how they come to us.”
In November 2019. Chris and Andy met with Ryan, a former CTO of Andy’s company Building Blocks, to sketch out the platform and determine how it would work. Ryan then worked on the technical and design aspects, whilst Chris and Andy reached out to gambling operators to seek funding for the treatment.
“The secure and scalable platform would enable clients and clinicians to book and run online sessions at a time that suits both. This convenience aims at encouraging people to start, and keep up with, their treatment,” continues Ryan. “By August 2020, the platform was built; an opportunity to bridge that gap – where residential, at that time, wasn’t an option for someone.”
In March, the country went into lockdown. As residential clinics closed, the lockdown period cemented the groups decision to support people through the online platform. Andy adds: “We’re answering the question of barriers to access. A global pandemic and ‘must close’ mandates for clinics were not in the plan but underpinned our decision to move to a digital delivery model.”
Helping people overcome gambling addiction and move on with their lives
Talking about the ethos behind AnonyMind, Chris says: “Our goal at AnonyMind is to leverage advanced technologies to break the existing barriers that clients have in accessing support in an industry typically restricted to clinic-based, cookie-cutter treatment pathways. So, we offer a range of graduated interventions from online self-serve support to more intensive one-to-one professional treatment pathways supporting individuals affected by gambling-related harms and other addictions at Leon House. That online support was vital when clinics had to shut because of COVID-19.”
“We’re bringing people suffering from addiction on a journey of recovery. AnonyMind is not just about treating people with problem gambling; we support them with a long-term recovery programme.”
The role of the AnonyMind clinicians
Dr Jamie Barsky, a clinical psychologist specialising in gambling disorders and compulsive behaviour, commented: “We are personalising client support and treatment pathways to meet individually assessed needs and promote a ‘client first’ ethos. With this approach, we respect clients as equal, expert partners in their own care. It is the joining together of a client’s expertise and that of the professional that will ensure the quality of their care.”
“It takes a lot for people to reach out for help. So, AnonyMind makes it simpler for them to get the help they need. People who use our service can do so easily, privately and at a time that suits them. And we may be online, but we’re not bots. Our face-to-face therapy sessions are with real people. These are highly experienced, qualified and regulated therapists and psychologists who listen to people’s stories, understand their concerns and help support them to a better future.
“We need to listen to their story. And we help clients to develop a personal recovery plan based on evidence-based psychological techniques to reach their goals.”
When stopping gambling isn’t enough to stop gambling addiction
Sustaining the recovery journey is a point that Andy is keen to reiterate. He says “We’re online because that way, people can get the help when they need it – at their own pace and in their own time. If they move house, that’s not a problem, we have that continuity of care built-in. This means we can improve client uptake and retention recovery rates through our multi-choice offering. Just ‘stopping gambling’ isn’t enough.”
“People lead busy lives with lots of demands on their time,” says Chris. “Those who use our service can go online anytime-anywhere. It’s quick and easy to plug into motivational advice and guidance and inspirational ‘lived experience’ stories from recovering gamblers. People can go online to make appointments with therapists at times that fit in with personal or work, or family commitments.”
AnonyMind: Our future
The team behind AnonyMind believe there’s too much reliance on governance and charity to support individuals with an addiction and that there is an opportunity for private organisations.
Andy says: “AnonyMind provides that opportunity. The platform was initially privately funded by the founding directors. Now we are operational we are leveraging funding primarily from operators, such that the AnonyMind platform can provide a controlled assessment in problematic gambling – a triage service. But it doesn’t stop here. According to Reed in Partnership, 75% of problem gamblers are working adults. And 82% think that gambling and related debt is a distraction within the workplace.
“So, AnonyMind is currently working with several corporate organisations to put gambling awareness on their employee wellbeing agendas, and Employee Assistance Programmes. Supporting employees, who may be suffering in silence with gambling addiction, is easy with AnonyMind. It starts with evaluating the potential workforce wellness benefits of providing staff with discreet access to gambling recovery support. It can reduce the organisational risks associated with problem gambling: whether that’s loss of time and productivity; theft, fraud and embezzlement; security risks; and effects of homeworking.”
Chris adds: “Leon House already works alongside a number of institutions, sporting organisations and corporate clients. We support staff and client wellbeing, mental health and treats any addictions, so we’re a natural progression to that corporate solution.”
And, in March 2021, AnonyMind partnered with the Gordon Moody Association. The charity has nearly 50 years of experience providing residential support for people severely addicted to gambling. So, the platform is growing its reach to help as many people as possible.
Andy concludes: “We are evidencing impact and sharing accurate, actionable data and insights with the industry. And we’re collaborating with funders and being held accountable for the Return on Funding (RoF) metrics. There is so much more we can, and will do, to support anyone suffering from problem gambling-related harms.”