Wall H, Kristiansen S, Molander O, Forsström D, Marionneau V
Public Health 224 (-) 14-19 [2023-09-09; online 2023-09-09]
Gambling causes significant public health harms that are addressed in the help service network. Helplines are the most widely used service among those experiencing harms. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the global gambling landscape. This study assesses the effect of COVID-19-related restrictions on help-seeking for gambling via helplines. We analysed data of national helplines in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark before and during the pandemic. The countries differed in their restrictions on the availability and accessibility of gambling during the pandemic. We performed an interrupted time series analysis of contact and web traffic data to helplines in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (2017-2021). We also compared forecasted time series to the actual data to assess change. The results show diverging patterns across the three countries. In Sweden, the number of helpline contacts remained stable throughout COVID-19, but there was an increasing trend in website visits. In Finland, the number of contacts declined during the first wave but rebounded during the second wave. Website visitation increased moderately. In Denmark, the number of contacts to the helpline soared over the COVID-19 period. The diverging results suggest that help-seeking behaviour is likely to be impacted by differing policy approaches to gambling availability and limit-setting, visibility of helplines, and the prevalence of different forms of gambling in the three Nordic countries before and during the pandemic. This has implications for a preventive public health approach for gambling.