From Stigma to Freedom: Hannah and Charlie's Story
As a freshman in high school, Hannah Lucas was diagnosed with a chronic illness, POTS, or Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Her symptoms, which included fainting, migraines, and dizziness, made her fear being alone. Although her disease was invisible, the side effects were not.
In a personal narrative written for Teen Vogue, Hannah shares how the visibility of her symptoms provoked bullying and harassment from her peers. Hannah found herself battling depression, which led to her self-harm, and considers suicide.
Wishing that there was a button she could press to make the pain go away, an idea sparked. “What if there was a panic button when you needed help,” she wondered.
Hannah, recognizing her power, knew that action needed to be taken. After opening up to her mother, they both decided that Hannah and others like her needed an outlet to alert others about their mental health. When Hannah shared her story with her younger brother, Charlie, he suggested the need for an app that operated like a panic button. The button could alert friends and family about a crisis and prevent others from feeling helpless when a loved one is struggling.
This idea would eventually lead to the creation of the mental health app, which Hannah and Charlie call the notOK app. How it works: when prompted by the user, the app sends an alert to five friends to immediately inform them that the user is not okay, followed by a GPS location. This resource acts as a system to let others know when and where you need trusted help and urgent support.
At the onset of the idea, Charlie was 12 and inquisitively developed the app’s infrastructure. However, as the ideas and visions of this app started to develop, it was clear that Hannah and Charlie needed to find developers in order to make this dream a reality where every young person in the country could access the technology.
Building credibility and serious sponsors of their work proved to be a challenge during the first month of development. "Adults weren’t taking us seriously,” Charlie and Hannah both reflected, except for their mom who became their most dedicated ally.
After a few months of cold calls and inquiries, not only did they match with an enthusiastic pair of developers who believed their vision, but also sourced $80,000 of funding. Eventually, Hannah and Charlie found Jason and Lindy at West Taylor Creative, who didn’t see them as kids, but as global changemakers.
Hannah and Charlie tag team responsibilities for the app: Hannah focused on relationship building and testing the functionality while Charlie guides the developers on building new features and updates.
Their mom, which they jokingly refer to as their intern, is the third member of their team. As a marketing professional at a major company in Atlanta, their mom taught them the fundamentals of communications from email etiquette to writing a proposal. However, Hannah and Charlie were always the ones to take the phone call, conduct the interview, and answer the questions.
This dynamic duo has made a vast impact with the launch of the notOK app. To date, they have 100,000 users across the US. Thinking big, they plan to branch out to Canada and the UK by the end of summer 2020.
As Hannah goes off to Georgia State University next year, she fully intends to keep working on notOK. She hopes to travel more in order to speak and advocate for the app, especially for what it stands for. Charlie is eager to develop new upgrades for the app during the course of his sophomore year.
For both Hannah and Charlie, the notOK app is “making it easier for people to reach out and ask for help and making it less stigmatized to ask for help. Most importantly, the app aims to remove the stigma for mental health. Hannah says, “notOK means freedom – freedom to be yourself – and embracing your mental illness. You do not have to hide it away, but can treat it without stigma and be okay with asking for help from your peers.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannah and Charlie are in the midst of rebranding and planning on launching an exciting update. They both want to rebrand notOK from a crisis tool to a pre-crisis tool. This means that the app with have a feature where users can journal their anxieties and rank their feelings on a 1-to-10 scale. Thinking preventatively, Charlie and Hannah want their users to utilize notOK when they feel pressure building before a crisis.
Their hope for the following update is to also have an integrated crisis text line. When users utilize the notOK app, the new update will send an immediate response within 3 minutes to their local WARM line, or crisis hotline, and dial for support.
As a high school senior, Hannah wanted to give back to other seniors who were missing their spring semester. She empathizes with the feelings of disappointment, lack of motivation, and overall grief her peers across the country experience in this new digital learning environment.
In response, Hannah and Charlie set up a Virtual Prom called We are Well Prom, where people apply and received sponsorships and scholarships from big corporate sponsors. Within a matter of weeks, they raised over $46,000 for students in need. This prom was held on a national level through Facebook and Instagram Live, while applications for scholarships were submitted via Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter. Applicants were invited to create a public video about their mental health journey and encourage others to challenge the stigma around mental health in the United States. This event accomplished a strong sense of community while also shining a light on mental health during this isolating time.
In the future, they both want to continue in similar workspaces. Hannah wants to be a social entrepreneur and Charlie wants to work in game design and animation.
When asked “Why do they want to be changemakers?”, Hannah and Charlie promptly responded, “If you don’t step up, who will? That has to be your mindset. If you don’t do it, then no one else will. Someone has to be different and step up. If you have an idea, run with it, because you don’t know what it exists and you might make a better one, if you don’t do it, you will never know the end result”.
As siblings, Hannah and Charlie have a unique perspective on being changemakers together. They both mentioned that it is challenging being siblings and coworkers on top of being together at home and working 24/7. Beneficially, they both can productively get work done together and hold each other accountable. They strongly encourage siblings to try to practice changemaking together. “Failure just means do it again and ask for help”. Honest and positive communication makes this process possible.
As changemakers, Hannah and Charlie feel the freedom to ideate and innovate for the good of all. Whether that is hosting a virtual prom or building digital mental health tools, this pair exemplifies what it means to see a problem, take action, and encourage others to join in.
Hannah and Charlie were finalists of the T-Mobile Competition, check out their profile here.
If you want to follow Hannah and Charlie’s journey of Virtual Prom or the latest updates with the app. Follow them on Instagram here.
Pierson Gammage contributed to this story.