Nonprofit working to raise awareness on veteran suicide through video games
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Since 2001, over 100,000 veterans have died by suicide, according to stopsoldiersuicide.org.
Kairi Sariah wants to change that. She knows firsthand what suicide is like for veterans.
“On December 21, 2020, I had effectively decided to end my life. And that was at the end of an eight-and-a-half-year long battle with alcohol that I lost every day,” Sariah said. “Just rock bottom after the military, the traumas and then homelessness, divorce. It just all amounted to giving up.”
She survived. Which is why she started the Veterans Gaming & Mental Health Suicide Prevention (VGMH) organization. An idea that came from streaming on Twitch. And when one veteran specifically reached out to her.
“He sent me a message and was like ‘hey, dude. I just wanted to let you know that that night you had me on your stream, I had already planned on killing myself that night. And the only reason I didn’t want because you said hello to me,’” Sariah said.
The organization has over 500 members from all over the world.
“We have over 15 lives that we can account for that have been brought back from the brink of suicide due to someone in VGMH,” Sariah said.
Sariah said VGMH has many resources for every veteran. Even LGBTQ veterans.
“Now that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed, people can be openly LGBTQ, but that doesn’t mean you don’t face the social repercussions still. I would imagine that it’s got higher rates, but I can’t say for certain,” she said.
Sariah also recalled the night of May 2, 2011. She was a geospatial intelligence analyst on the team that helped led to Osama Bin Laden’s eventual capture.
Sariah said after that, along with seeing countless casualties, she went to see professional help.
“I got like disqualified immediately. Like before I even made it back to my squadron, I was getting a phone call from my NCOIC telling me that I could no longer fly. So there was almost retribution for seeking help. So we internalize and hold onto all these traumas that we face,” she said.
She added that these traumas got worse out of the military.
“Then it manifests in ways such as addiction, self-harm, you know, you name it. Our training to get ready for civilian life is, at best, a week long. You kind of get thrown out into the real world, and you lose your sense of mission and purpose,” she said.
Veteran Tyler Christian is also part of VGMH. He said he attempted suicide on multiple occasions after coming out while enlisted. He said coming out led to him being sexually assaulted. Something he says he didn’t report at first.
“I was actually scared at first because when I was in the Army. When you’re 11 Bravo, you constantly have the thought of ‘oh, if I do this or I do this or I do this.’ You basically get to the point where you can’t seek help otherwise you just feel like you’re awful,” Christian said. “You feel like you’re going to get peered out. Majority of the people will not seek the help they need.”
Christian said organizations like VGMH help give a sense of community without any added pressure.
“There were nights when I didn’t want to talk to a suicide hotline because I didn’t want the cops to be called on me,” he said. “A lot of people, they prevent doing that because of that. They won’t talk to someone professional because they don’t want to be out in the ward, they don’t want to be stuck up on medicine.”
VGMH Marketing Director Alexander Castro remembers regularly seeing suicides of those enlisted. He said he and other soldiers developed addictions, like alcohol.
“People stigmatize mental health, but there’s really no reason to do that,” Castro said. “Everybody here is fighting their own demons whether or not you know it. Everyone should work together on that. Nobody is above being depressed. You just got to keep seeking ways to get a little bit more serotonin.”
If you would like to join the VGMH organization or learn more information, be sure to reach out to Sariah through vgmhmission.org.
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