At the pivotal moment when a problem gambler reaches out for help, it’s essential that their inquiry be handled with compassion, support and professional guidance. That cry for help often starts with a call to the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline, where a team of trained experts from Canvas Health is ready to help those in crisis.

“Our goal is to meet callers where they’re at,” says Dave Jungwirth, a chemical health counselor and gambling specialist at Canvas. “They’ve called for a reason and it’s up to us to ask probing questions to learn more about their situation.”

The initial focus of each call is to ascertain the level of crisis and to ensure the caller is in a place of safety. “We screen to determine whether the caller may be suicidal or have major issues with depression,” says Dave. Beyond that, callers to the state helpline receive information, support, and referrals to state-certified gambling treatment providers in the area where the caller lives.

Some callers are simply seeking information, while others are in a destructive phase of a gambling addiction. A call that Dave remembers vividly was from a man, holding his paycheck in hand, vowing, “I’m going to go gambling.” “I had to determine where he was calling from – home, casino, etc., and how imminent the situation was,” says Dave. He discussed the man’s gambling history, and learned that this was not the first time he’d wanted someone to take his check away from him.

“I talked to him about his options and whether he’d received treatment in the past,” says Dave. “Initially he was against getting treatment but he eventually took the resources I gave him.”

In addition to providing educational materials and contact information for treatment providers, the helpline also provides support to help people cope and suggests ways of handling their issues going forward. “We’ll often help people by suggesting internal coping mechanisms, such as teaching them to do deep breathing so they can talk and think with less anxiety,” says Laura Weber, manager of Canvas Health’s HSI Crisis Connection. For example, callers may be asked if they want to develop a safety plan or receive a follow-up call to monitor their safety and use of resources and referrals.

Helpline calls are answered by trained volunteers and master level interns who are supervised by staff supervisors. Their 40-hour training includes eight hours of shadowing with an additional two days of certified applied suicide intervention skills training. A dedicated gambling specialist is always available to assist on a call that requires specialized attention.

By the end of a helpline call, which might last as long as 20 minutes, callers typically state that the call has been helpful and that they have a better understanding of their options. They are reminded that they can always call back for additional assistance and support.

Approximately 80 percent of gambling helpline calls come from the gambler; callers may also be friends or family members of problem gamblers. Callers typically learn about the helpline from the internet or from information provided by the Minnesota Lottery.

Canvas compiles information gathered from callers to help understand more about their experience with gambling and their efforts to seek help. Some of this data includes forms of gambling causing the problem, treatment experience, primary and secondary concerns, referral sources and the caller’s county of residence. The specific referral or information provided is also chronicled for each call.

“The data we collect allows us to identify areas where help is most needed,” says Laura. “We also determine how the caller found the helpline so we can better tailor where the public dollars are spent to advertise it, thus connecting with gambler’s experiencing problems where and when they need the help.”

Those concerned about their gambling behavior or the gambling behavior of a friend or loved one should contact the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline at 800-333-HOPE. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is funded through the Minnesota Department of Human Services.