May 27, 2020

Meet Julie O’Brien, Safety Support Specialist

GoGuardian Team
Julie O’Brien, Safety Support Specialist (with her photo)

The members of GoGuardian’s Safety Support Team are the human specialists behind Beacon 24/7. They review and escalate alerts that are flagged by our AI as actively planning a suicide suicide, so that school responders can act quickly to get students the support they need. This interview concludes our “Meet the Safety Support Specialists” series for Mental Health Awareness Month. Today, meet Julie O’Brien.

What drew you to become a Safety Support Specialist?

I come from a long line of teachers and social workers. My mother was a teacher for over 30 years, my sister is an assistant principal, my dad was an instructor, and I have somewhere in the double digits the number of cousins, aunts, and uncles that work in the school system or as social workers. Working with and helping kids is a passion within my family, to say the least.

Following in my family’s footsteps, I’ve worked with children of all backgrounds in a wide range of settings. I’ve been a teacher, a competitive coach, and even a high school security guard. The one thing that was glaringly obvious in every position was that kids have way more stress and expectations put on them than I did when I was growing up. And no extracurricular activity or specific background made a child immune to depression, low self-esteem, or suicidal thoughts. There had to be a way to help identify students who need help quickly and without bias.

When I learned that GoGuardian was using technology to help identify students at risk of suicide or self-harm, I immediately wanted to be apart of it. The opportunity to be a small part in the effort to reverse the increase in youth suicides is what drew me to the Safety Support Specialist role.

Why are trust and safety staff important in today’s digital world?

Society as a whole places a great deal of importance on children’s physical safety, so why wouldn’t we take their digital and emotional safety just as seriously? With the increasing amount of time that students spend online—researching, doing homework, using social media, chatting with friends—it’s important to make sure that there is something in place that’s working to keep students safe while online.

The safety support team is important in a slightly unique way. We are a step in the process that could help save a life. Nothing is more gratifying than hearing that one of our Beacon 24/7 escalation calls helped staff get a student help in time or that it helped identify a student that the school didn’t previously recognize as at risk for suicide.

Generally speaking, trust and safety staff are like the safety net under a trapeze for students while they’re on the internet. They give you a sense of security, even if you never have to use them, and they’re always ready to help keep you safe if something unexpected happens.

How do you balance your own self-care while handling serious matters that come with the job?

I look at every alert that our team gets as a positive opportunity. An opportunity for a student to get the help and resources they need. An opportunity to be a small part of their journey to becoming healthier, happier, and safer. An opportunity to help change the trend of increasing youth suicides. While the topic of suicide and self-harm are sad in nature, I get to be on the side where there is hope.

GoGuardian has also made it clear that our mental health is important to the company, and therefore, they provide numerous ways to focus on my self-care. They provide us with meditation and yoga sessions multiple times a week and have made it a priority to continue those resources through virtual video sessions even while we are under the stay-at-home orders. While, admittedly, I’m not the most comfortable with meditation yet, I can see the benefits a little bit more after each session. I also make it a point to stay connected with my family and friends. If I need more guidance or support, I’m lucky enough to have access to a mental health professional that I can reach out to.

What impact does your role have on the GoGuardian community?

As a safety support specialist, I get to add a human component to the student safety process. The AI scans data and creates alerts, but as a safety support specialist, I get to add an additional level of verification and peace of mind to schools. In the case that we are alerted that there’s a student who needs immediate help, I will call school staff members. Having a live human for schools to talk to instead of a computer or automated message helps to bring a little empathy to such a serious topic and situation. I like to think that we help schools feel a little less alone in the daunting goal of preventing student suicides.