It’s National Video Games Day today. Video games are more than just fun to play. They help with mental health issues and can reduce the risks of veteran suicide.
We talked with Stephen Machuga, Founder and CEO of Stack Up, about the organization’s Overwatch program. Available 24/7/365, it provides a safe space for veterans to talk , connect, and find a supportive community.
Military Hire: What is the Overwatch Program?
Stephen: So, Overwatch is, as you understood, it’s our 24/7 suicide prevention team, online, where we have about 20 volunteers at this point, who are ready to go at a moment’s notice if somebody comes into our Discord and needs some help. So it’s really come…our organization has come a long way in the last couple years, but the Overwatch program is definitely one that I’m most proud of because…before we were sending Xboxes to individuals deployed forward, and you’re creating positive mental space, and you know, improving morale and things like that, but being able to say that we’re actually saving lives now is…it’s a whole different conversation and it’s amazing to think that we’ve actually helped people, pulled people back from the brink through this organization, so that’s exciting.
Military Hire: How did the Overwatch program get started?
Stephen: Well, over time we grew a community of gamers and veterans through our Discord channel, which is a free to utilize chat room offering that we would kind of gather, and hang out and play games together, and you get a bunch of veterans in a room, and we can be a kind of salty, dark humored lot—is putting it mildly… in PG. And, over time, you’d get a couple folks in there who were saying some extremely dark things like self-harm, suicidal or homicidal ideation, above and beyond the usual haha funny veteran joke. To the point where I realized that if we didn’t do something, we were gonna lose one of these guys or gals and we will have done nothing to help. Like it was just like okay well, not our problem, not our scope , not our function, so I just put a very informal task force together internally and just said hey! Just keep an eye on things, you know, people need to talk, people need to vent, you know…pull them off this side, let’s not, you know, make jokes about it, let’s treat it with the seriousness that it requires, and boy howdy! That blew up real fast! So it turned into, hey, there’s something here, and we turned it from an informal program into a formal program…middle, about 18 months ago and it’s been successful ever since. We’ve actually saved people…we have actually saved people’s lives at this point. So, it’s exciting to know that we are there for people when they need us, where they need us. Where they feel most comfortable—in their house in front of video games or in front of their computer. You know, we don’t have to schedule anything. You just show up and say hey, I need to talk to someone, and we’re off to the races.
Military Hire: Who can participate in the Overwatch program?
Stephen: If you’re struggling…we are a veteran community and you know our suicide prevention team is focused on supporting veterans, but at the same time, if you need help and you need someone to talk to, we’re here. And, it’s important that people know that we’re not going to turn anyone away. We might find a group that’s better suited for you to talk with, but we’re certainly not…you know, we’re here to help any way we can, so civilians, you know, anything we can do. So head on over to Stack Up, and if you need help, we’re here.
Military Hire: What are the best ways to connect with Stack Up?
Stephen: Just head over to stackup.org. In the lower right-hand corner you’ll see a popup, hey, do you need to talk to somebody, I mean that’s our suicide prevention team. You know that’s the easiest way to connect. But otherwise, just head over to Stack Up, kind of poke around, and see what…you know we have a couple different volunteer programs if you’re interested in getting involved in helping out or if you have a veteran in your life that you feel could use our services or might be interested in volunteering them for something or interested in getting them a supply create from us or something like that. Feel free to fill out some of our forms there and we’ll get them taken care of!