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Tamil Nadu government officials had asked an independent panel to assess the possible link between gambling and self-harm with a view to banning online gambling. Psychiatrists say mental health is a separate issue and deserves a serious, systematic approach.

Academic psychiatrist submits report to TN authorities

There is no direct causal relationship between online gambling and suicide. This is the ultimate conclusion reached by independent research into the matter, shedding light on a sensitive issue that has repeatedly been the subject of public debate.

The report was requested by authorities in Tamil Nadu a few months ago in an effort to justify upcoming legislation to ban online gambling for money. However, the study – carried out by a leading Gujarati psychiatrist – found that there could be no possible link between playing an online baccarat game and committing suicide anywhere down the line.

Dr. Sandip H. Shah, Professor of Psychiatry and Dean of Government Medical College, Godhra, Gujarat, is the author of the elaborate research paper “Suicide and Online Gaming”. He was then examined by Dr. Ajay Chauhan, MD, Medical Superintendent of Ahmedabad Mental Health Hospital.

On the one hand, the study indicates that there is no data in the public domain that could substantiate claims of such a correlation. On the other hand, researchers emphasize that suicide is a complex issue, with distinct and deeply rooted personal reasons that require careful approach.

Regulation, not Sensation

The research was part of the efforts of an independent panel of experts convened by policy makers in Tamil Nadu. Over the past year they have been trying to introduce legislation to regulate online gambling. The TN government has officially solicited feedback from teachers, parents, young people, psychologists, consumer and NGO groups, game companies and the general public.

Notably, psychiatric assessments and market experts have agreed that the best way forward is to establish appropriate market regulation, based on extensive studies by the scientific community and best practices around the world. Judgmental statements and sensational media coverage of personal tragedies never helped and only led to ill-calculated attempts at blanket bans on online gambling.

Dr Shah’s research, the basis of psychiatric support for government officials, points out that ill-considered legislation is usually the result of misinformation. The study repeatedly mentions the absence of any causal correlation between online gambling and suicide. She mentions the need to gather more data, before and after having legalized online gambling with precise rules.

“Sound” regulation should be backed up by further study from the scientific and technical communities, he continues. Even coincidences do not lead to proper conclusions about causation, while suicide prevention policies must be based on larger statistics, case reports and strategies. Media reports of financial fraud and personal distress usually lead to ad hoc interventions that are never well thought out.

Indeed, the consequences of extreme bans have proven to push real-money gambling into the black market and online gambling into the offshore scene. Thus, Indian players are less protected and exposed to stress and more to direct and indirect threats.

The researchers explicitly recommend collaborative efforts between regulators, gaming companies and the medical community. These should lead to a set of responsible gambling practices, licensed operators in TN (and the Union as a whole), as well as greater consumer protection through strict rules and requirements.

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