What if there were an app that helped save teens from suicide? This is the question that 11-year-old Charlie Lucas not only asked himself but came up with an answer for when he teamed up with his 15-year-old sister, Hannah, who had attempted suicide because of illness, bullying and depression.
Together, with the support of their parents (Dad works in tech and Mom is a writer), these two young technopreneurs created the NotOK app.
“It’s a panic button on your phone. A tap of the button notifies up to five trusted contacts with the user’s GPS location and the simple text message ‘I’m not OK,’” said Charlie as we chatted along with his sister and mother on a sunny day in New York City. He added that trusted contacts can send back an instant response through the app to let the sender know if they are available to help.
The Lucas siblings and their mother were in Manhattan for a week of publicity to promote the NotOK app, which is already available. The kids also lined up meetings with potential financial investors and tech platforms that might make good partners in helping them grow the app into a movement and a real business.
Hannah’s girl-boss vibe pulses through the room. She’s an honors student and former competitive gymnast—not the kind of girl you’d think anyone would mess with. But Hannah suffers from postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a chronic disorder of the involuntary nervous system, which regulates things like blood pressure and heart rate.
For Hannah, the nerves regulating blood flow are out of balance, causing her to faint uncontrollably. Fainting, and symptoms like muscular pain and nausea, became so frequent that Hannah missed 70 percent of school last year. While there is no cure for POTS, which typically strikes between the ages of 15 and 50, 80 percent of teens outgrow the disorder by their 20s.
Unable to make up school work because of the severity of her illness, Hannah also had to contend with threats of sexual assault from male students, who taunted that if they found her alone and passed out, they would violate her. The threats were reported but went wholly unpunished, according to the Lucas family.
Hannah found herself unable to cope; the sickness, the failure at school, the loss of control and the victimization were too much. Her anxiety spiraled into depression and self-harm. Hannah would later overdose with meds she found in her family medicine cabinet.
“I had to do something. I was not even big enough to catch her when she would fall,” Charlie told me, his eyes full of pain.
At 11, he’s a black belt in karate, but he fought back against those bullies who plagued his sister without ever raising a hand. Instead, he sat down and mapped out an app based on an idea Hannah had shared with him to address their biggest concern: Even if he couldn’t catch her when she fell, he wanted a way to always know if Hannah was not OK.
He needed something so that he, and the other people who love her, could have a way to get to her in time to help.
When I spoke to the kids a month ago, they had partnered with youth mental health organizations as far away as South Africa to introduce the technology to children in need on the continent.
At Bug & Bee, the company the Lucas kids have set up to run NotOK, Hannah is the CEO and Charlie is the chief operating officer in charge of updates, developer approvals and innovations. They’ve got big plans that go beyond just an app. They see their young business as a potential movement.
“Everyone is struggling with something,” Hannah said, whether it be physical or mental illness. “It’s OK not to be OK.”