Black History Month

Siblings Invent An App For Teens To Ask For Help When They're 'Not OK'

"I want everyone to know they are not alone in their issues."

This Black History Month, we've got our eyes on the current class of leaders, who, standing on the shoulders of giants, move the conversation forward through hard work, determination, and ingenuity. From HBCU valedictorians to entrepreneurs leading the charge, here's to the next generation. 

Over the last several years, many studies have shown a link between social media and mental illnesses among teenagers as online platforms and social networks have become danger zones for cyberbullying, violence, and other painful experiences. At the same time, however, tech and wellness are becoming more synonymous as people work to create safe digital spaces and apps to give youth access to mental health resources with the click of a button on their phone. 

While the app realm has typically been a boy's club (mostly for White men), we are happy to see the space open up to more and more people of color who are innovating amazing things in this arena. Most notable this month are siblings Hannah and Charlie Lucas, two teens joining the rising number of entrepreneurs of color making their mark on the app and wellness world with their invention of an app called notOK.

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Hannah and Charlie Lucas Courtesy of Amber Law

The idea for the app came after 15-year-old Hannah fainted due to her postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects circulation. The episode left the teen terrified of being alone, which led to depression, anxiety, and to self-harming behaviors. By the end of her freshman year of high school, she missed 196 classes due to her condition. During one of Hannah's lowest moments, in which she contemplated hurting herself,  she wondered, "What if there was a button I could press and someone would immediately know I was not OK?" 

This question led to her and her brother creating the notOK App™, which officially launched on Jan. 31. 

As Hannah imagined in her time of distress, the app is literally a button for help. When the burdens of stress and anxiety can be too much to bear, sometimes even too overwhelming to compose a text or place a phone call, the app allows users to alert their pre-selected group of emergency contacts with ease. The group receives a text message that reads: "Hey, I'm not OK. Please call me, text me, or come find me," along with a link to the user's current GPS location. 

Courtesy of Hannah and Charlie Lucas

Even with the growth of social media and digital communication, it can still be difficult for people to express or share what they are going through as there is still so much stigma associated with mental health.

"We're so close to being adults and being on our own that we usually don't want to ask for help because we want to show everyone, especially our parents, they don't need to hold our hands and walk us through life," Hannah told A Plus. "The notOK app makes asking for help easier because it takes the guesswork out of it. It's just pressing a button and letting the app speak for you. It sort of takes the pride issue out of play."

"I hope to inspire change when it comes to social stigmas," Hannah told us. "I want everyone to know: it is OK to be 'notOK.' That's just not a catchphrase, it's a way of life for me. For the longest time when I was dealing with depression and self harm, I carried so much shame. The shame and pride I had kept me from reaching out. But no more. It is OK to be dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, cutting. It's OK because you're not the only one dealing with it. That's what I learned through this process."

"The minute I began sharing my struggles, it freed my friends to share theirs as well. I want everyone to know they are not alone in their issues."

With mental wellness movements like Jan. 31 #LetsTalkDay, which is honored in the United States  and Canada, and recent regulations requiring mental health education to be taught in New York schools, more and more people are becoming  aware of how common mental health issues are and how absolutely necessary (and OK) it is to ask for support.  

Hannah offered some advice for fellow teens on how they can practice self-care and manage their mental wellness in a healthy way saying, "[The first step is sharing] what they're going through with their friends or parents. It's a freeing feeling knowing you're not alone. The second thing I'd tell them is to surround themselves with trustworthy friends who are also good influences. As far as self-care, the best thing you can do is learn to love yourself for who you are. Accept the real you and stop wishing you were a Snapchat filter or a bright, shiny Instagram post, because those IG posts are not real life." 

Cover photo via Hannah and Charlie Lucas

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