May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s also a time of reflection on my “why.” As a parent, former school district CTO, and long time user of Beacon, GoGuardian’s safety and mental health solution, I think it's important to share my professional and personal experience with machine-learning solutions that notify pre-determined school staff of instances where students may be at risk of suicide, self-harm, or potential harm to others.
This is a story of where my personal and professional life intersected.
I have always been a proponent of using technology to make tasks easier. I’ve also been interested in how technology can help solve problems efficiently and effectively. As a long time user of GoGuardian safety and security products, I championed the use of Beacon in my former school district when it became available.
We were beta testers for Beacon, and helped it become the trusted solution it is today. I can attest that Beacon has helped save several lives, and has been able to identify students in crisis so that our school could help support them and their families with the resources they so desperately needed. We were also able to adjust mental health staffing and resources based on trends from Beacon reports. We created a system of support that leveraged machine learning technology with human intervention and saw first hand the positive effect it had on a school community.
However, while my team and I were ensuring thousands of students in the school district where I worked were identified and safe, my own daughter had a school issued laptop from another district that did not deploy a mental health and safety solution.
On the surface level, my daughter is an overachiever: a nationally ranked athlete, on honor roll, a social butterfly…fill in the blank with just about any accolade, and she has won it. I also thought I had the kind of relationship with my seemingly happy daughter in which she would be able to tell me anything, as she had in the past with minor bumps and blips in her preteen years.
However, it took her six months to tell us she was having intrusive and suicidal thoughts.
As a parent, I felt like a failure. Why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t I see the signs? As a school district administrator, I wanted to know what I had missed. What resources could I use to get her support? Admittedly, I didn’t spend too much time looking at my daughter’s browser history in the past, as I had a demanding job and felt she was thriving.
Imagine the flood of emotions I felt when I looked at her search history. Searches I knew would have triggered immediate support and intervention in my own district. If I had known she was suffering that long, we would have provided her with the tools and support she needed much earlier.
Luckily, my position in a school district and the ability to navigate mental health care afforded my family and me with the knowledge and resources to help her right away. However, many families struggle with access to mental health resources and do not know where to start. Beacon is the safety net that prompts immediate support.
My biggest regret is that she suffered in silence for over six months — my biggest joy is that she told us before it was too late.
Identifying the signs early can help prevent trauma. My family has lived it.
That is ultimately why I left my district and came to GoGuardian. I strongly believe all schools should deploy such a product.
Many times, concerns about risk are a pushback to deploying a mental health and safety solution. I have experienced both models - schools with safety solutions and schools without, and I can confidently say there is greater risk in doing nothing.