Depression and a suicide attempt spurred 16-year-old Hannah Lucas to create an app that supports mental health.
Depression and an attempted suicide led this brave teen to create an on-demand support system for people to get help when they’re afraid to ask for it.
Last year, 16-year-old Hannah Lucas of Cummings, Ga., created NotOK, an app that operates like a digital panic button and alerts friends and family to your exact location via text message. The app, which launched in January, is a tool for people like Lucas who suffer from anxiety, depression, stress or loneliness — or simply need help fast.
“I was going through a really rough time after I received a diagnosis,” says Lucas, who was told at age 15 that she had postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a condition that causes fainting, rapid heartbeat and lightheadedness. To make matters worse, peers were bullying her for it at school, such as pretending to have seizures when she’d walk past them in the hallway, she tells Moneyish.
“The idea for the app came to me when I was at the lowest point in my depression. One night, I was just crying and self-harming because I felt like there was nothing else to do. I felt like I couldn’t talk to my friends. I isolated myself because I didn’t feel worthy,” Lucas says. “My one thought was that I’m causing everyone around me so much pain and suffering. I could just end it right here, right now.” Thankfully, her mom intervened.
That’s when Lucas decided to take matters into her own hands to make a change: She told her mom that she wished there was an app she could use to alert her friends and family that she needed physical or emotional help. She teamed up with her 13-year-old brother, Charlie Lucas, who had learned to code at summer camp, to come up with the logistics and design for the app. The duo then worked with developers over Skype to get their product off the ground.
Here’s how it works: People register for the app — available for iOS and Android — and enter up to five trusted phone contacts. Rather than spending time to type out a text message and find the right words to say while in distress, the app takes the guesswork out by sending your location and a message that says, “Hey, I’m not OK. Please call me, text me, or come find me,” to the selected contact with the push of a bright red button.
There is certainly a marketplace for the app, considering one in six U.S. adults lives with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Nearly half of teens between the ages of 13 to 18 alone have a mental disorder, the NIMH reports. So far, the app has gotten 12,000 downloads and 3,000 subscriptions.
As a parent, mom Robin Lucas has anxieties of her own — including alarmingly frequent and devastating school shootings, coupled with dealing with her daughter’s diagnosis. “We don’t want other parents to experience what we went through,” Robin says of supporting her kids’ app and helping them turn it into a positive business to help others.
Hannah is working to make the NotOK app free to all, but because she relies on a third party to send out the text messages, the app comes with a $2.99 monthly fee. She says she hopes that schools will make the app mandatory.
“We want to make it accessible to anyone and everyone,” Lucas says.
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