We’re surrounded by so many daily stressors that can leave us overwhelmed, full of doubt, and toppled by insecurity. That pressure is only magnified by mental illness. Millions are battling depression and anxiety in silence and shame. And even those who seem to have it all together sadly turn to tragic ways to end it all. Just yesterday, we were rocked by the death of fashion designer Kate Spade by reported suicide.
While adults are still juggling with the taboos of coming clean about mental illness, a new generation intends to smash all of the stigmas entirely. Meet Hannah and Charlie Lucas, creators of the notOK app. The notOK app connects users to five contacts of their choice, who can then receive alerts if the user is struggling. Not only is it a genius idea, it’s a life-saving one.
CASSIUS spoke with the young app creators about notOK, shattering mental health stigma, and ways teens can practice self-care. And if you are in a tough place, be sure to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Don’t you dare give up.
CASSIUS: Congrats on making something that is so important, not just for young people but for all people to have a lifeline when struggling with something, whether it be depression or anxiety, or just a rough period. Charlie, I love that you were able to help your sister in such a fundamental way. What were some of the signs that you saw in your sister that signaled that she needed help?
Charlie: Well, she sort of told me everything that was happening, so I didn’t really need many signs. But some of the signs that I saw in Hannah were… I don’t really know how to describe it. I sort of just knew that she wasn’t really in a good place.
C.: That shows that you guys are close. Sometimes it’s not even a word, sometimes you can just sense it. That’s a testament to your relationship. I love the idea of having a Top 5, a group of people that you can turn to when you need help. Who do you think are the best people to put in your Top 5?
Hannah: Personally, I suggest people that know your situation because that is the most important thing because nowadays there are so many different ways to be not ok. And another important thing is that they have to be local because there is that aspect of having the user’s GPS location involved with the text message. So, if they’re too far away, then they’re not going to be able to come and get the user just in case that’s what they need. So I definitely recommend people that are local.
C.: I feel like when I was growing up there weren’t a lot of avenues to talk about mental health or how you’re feeling. But I feel like now a big thing that people are really engaging in, which I think is amazing, is self-care. Are there things that teenagers can do, or things that you personally do for self-care?
Charlie: For me, what I personally do… I have panic attacks. I just sit somewhere and just breathe. And I just think. I try to distract myself from what’s going on around myself. And I go on my phone or something, and I just try to think and try to distract myself.
Hannah: And for me, I do a couple of different things [laughs]. Cause you know, I’m extra as always. But personally, my favorite self-care tip is to exercise. I’m lazy, so this one’s kind of tricky for me [laughs], but when it gets to that moment when I’m super stressed out and I just need to release some of the tension, then I’ll usually do a couple of jumping jacks to get my mind off of something.
C.: What would your advice be to kids struggling with the idea of simply telling their parents, or maybe getting a doctor, or needing medication? What would your advice be to kids dealing with the stigma, and maybe shame?
Hannah: My advice would be to think of it more as a physical illness, because the way my therapist even had to talk to my parents about me having depression and anxiety was she had to talk about it more as a chemical aspect, because chemicals are something physical and something that they can relate to better. And my doctor even said, “Well, look if you guys broke your foot wouldn’t you guys take pain medication?”
C.: We have shows like 13 Reasons Why and there’s a lot of talk about if it helps kids or hurts kids. Or people will blame some of their comments or irrational behavior on their mental health. Do you think those shows help or hurt, or is it somewhere in the middle?
Hannah: Well personally, I haven’t watched 13 Reasons Why. I have too many shows on my list on Netflix so I really haven’t gotten over to it yet [laughs]. But in my opinion, it seems like they glorify suicide more in 13 Reasons Why. And it just kind of bugged me a little, because not everyone experiences mental health in those ways. So, I guess in my opinion, it all depends on how you personally interpret it. Because me, I kind of thought to myself, wait, is that how it’s supposed to be? Well, maybe I don’t have this. But, wait, what’s wrong with me? Am I different? So personally it bugged me a little because… I mean, I went through that stuff, and it was just I guess bothersome. I guess it just all depends on how you interpret it.
C.: Along with notOK, are there other messages that you would want to give to kids?
Hannah: I guess my biggest thing would be don’t be afraid to reach out, because personally for me, that was super super tough and super difficult to work through. But just don’t be afraid to reach out, because people who are closest to you, your friends, your family, they are here to help and not harm.
Charlie: Well, I really wanted to add that the stigma behind mental health is one of the most dangerous things about it. Like the stigma is what makes you not reach out for help. The stigma is what makes it so dangerous. And it’s also what makes you not be able to tell anyone about it and just makes you suffer in silence. Just like oh, if I tell someone about this they’ll think there’s something wrong with me. But please just make sure that you try your hardest to fight the stigma.