Video games helping reduce veteran suicide: Here’s how

  • Suicide is the second leadest cause of death among younger veterans

  • A nonprofit has created a gamer community to support at-risk vets

  • “All it took was hello”: group’s approach is based on unconditional love

(NewsNation) — The darkest night of Kairi Sariah’s life underscored a growing need among young military veterans: suicide prevention. 

“Dec. 21, 2020, was the night that I effectively decided to end my life. … To this day, I do not know why (the gun) did not fire,” she said.

Today, the 31-year-old Air Force veteran is the executive director of the Veterans Gaming & Mental Health Mission, an online-only, peer-support group for veterans with depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses that can contribute to suicide. 

VGMH has a group on Discord — a social media platform popular among the video game community — that hosts hundreds of users from all over the world. People meet up to play online games together, chat about video game news or find someone like themselves with whom to talk. 

The group’s efforts have prevented more than 50 suicides, Sariah said.

A screenshot of a conversation in Veterans Gaming & Mental Health Mission’s discord. Courtesy of VGMH.

Users engage in different channels, with some smaller communities forming around favorite games and other channels that share news about the VA and veteran benefits. 

Those looking for help will find topic-specific channels like help for problems with relationships. On the peer-2-peer channel, users can connect with trained peer counselors who typically respond to messages from struggling veterans within minutes of a post.

“It’s made to be a proactive solution — where it’s just people that would rather hear about your story than hear about your funeral,” she told NewsNation. “In that connection (we) show unconditional love.” 

‘You said hello’

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among veterans under the age of 45 — despite the overall rate of veteran suicide falling for the first time in decades, according to data recently released by The Department of Veteran Affairs. 

Matt Miller, the VA’s executive director of suicide prevention, emphasized the rising rates of suicide among young people in general, adding, “there’s never one factor that explains either increases or decreases.”

“You also have to address the community aspect of things from a prevention and from an intervention perspective,” he said. 

Community is what Sariah says saved her life at her lowest point. She began streaming about mental health on Twitch. One night, a man formerly in the Navy messaged her. 

Kairi Sariah fundraises for the Veterans Gaming and Mental Health Mission on Twitch. Courtesy of VGMH.

“Something told me, ‘I need to talk to him,’” she said. “Three days later, after the stream, I get a message from him that says, ‘Hey, dude, I just wanted to let you know: That night that you had me on the stream was the night that I planned on ending my life. And the only reason I didn’t was because you said hello to me.’”

Sariah said that experience became the basis for VGMH’s approach.

Now, Sariah and her group of gamers/peer-counselors are a small army, largely relying on social media connections to get their message out. They’re currently in the process of applying for funding that could expand the number of people they reach and what services they offer. 

A member of the Veterans Gaming & Mental Health Mission organizes a game night through Discord. Courtesy of VGMH.

In the meantime, most nights you’ll find Sariah where it started: playing and talking about video games. 

“After this, trust and believe, I’m jumping into Discord, and I’ll be hanging out and people will pour in,” she said. “Then we’ll be like, ‘What are we all playing tonight? Let’s all hang out.’”


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