In 2017, the suicide rate for veterans in the U.S. was 1.5 times the rate for non-Veteran adults, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
Chris Boehm, a medically retired Army veteran and video-game lover who runs a veteran support YouTube channel, has made it his mission to raise awareness about that statistic after watching his own comrades struggle to reacclimate to civilian life.
“I was scrolling through Facebook, scrolling through Twitter, scrolling through Reddit, and I saw a lot of hurt soldiers, a lot of hurt veterans,” Boehm told In The Know. “I just saw a lot of my own buddies committing suicide.”
“We train so hard, we go over there and then we come back,” he added. “It just hurt my soul so much that I had to do something.”
Boehm, a former Army tanker who served from 2008 to 2016 — including a deployment to Mosul, Iraq, in 2010 — started the YouTube channel Bayonet X-Ray in January 2020 after learning the U.S. Army had been using the gaming platform Twitch for recruitment purposes.
Boehm said that’s when he realized he could also use gaming for outreach in order to provide veterans a safe place to gather online, share content, ask peer-to-peer questions, share reintegration experiences and just enjoy some good gaming content.
The father of three says he tries his best to live stream for 22 minutes at sunrise every single day — an ode to the estimated 22 U.S. veterans that take their own life each day. (Note: The 22-a-day statistic was called into question after it became widely cited in 2015 by lawmakers seeking to improve mental health services available to veterans. The VA’s most recent report on veteran suicides claims the average number of veteran suicide deaths per day has equaled or exceeded 16.0 since 2007, with the highest being 17.2 deaths per day in 2014.)
“I was just sitting there on my couch scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and looking at this rate of 22 veterans a day committing suicide,” he recalled. “And I just kind of dropped the phone and was like, ‘I gotta do something.’ So I started streaming for 22 minutes in the morning to just put a signal out to say, ‘Hey, it’s OK to talk about mental health and your behavior coming out of the military.'”
Ultimately, Boehm says he hopes by using his platform to discuss other issues impacting veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, he can help show the community it’s OK to talk about the tough stuff in order to heal.
“It’s not a bad thing to talk about mental health because it’s your feelings,” Boehm explained. “We have to talk about our feelings and a lot of people don’t wanna talk about that. It’s tough, but I do it every morning for 22 minutes, so it’s not that bad.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. To contact the VA’s Crisis Line, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
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