Words and Photos** By Brianna Moné
Check on your strong friend.
Check on your stressed-out friend.
Check on your happy friend.
Check on all your friends.
Fifty percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so far more than just a quick status update, doing the above is super important because your squad may be going through some things you don’t know about.
In recent years, the issue of mental health has gone from something only being talked about on the DL to gaining the traction and recognition it deserves. This is especially important in the Black community, where traditionally, mistrust, misunderstandings, cultural biases, the way the healthcare system is structured, and the overall stigma of mental illness have prevented people from seeking help and opening up about what’s going on in their lives. The more talk there is about mental health, though, the more permission there is for those who need help to express they’re not OK.
Because Hannah was able to find the courage to realize she wasn’t OK after her Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) diagnosis, constant bullying, and suicide attempt, she’s now helping others realize the same through the launch of her app notOK. It makes asking for help when someone is feeling vulnerable as simple as pressing a button.
Brianna (for Sesi): So, tell me a little bit about how it all started last year*, when you missed a lot of school? What was that time like for you?
Hannah: Last year, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called POTS. It causes me to pass out. I was passing out so often last year that I missed about 200 classes in total. I was bullied a lot and threatened by boys in my class. From that, I developed bad depression and anxiety. There were eating disorders involved. I self-harmed in the form of cutting. I even attempted suicide. Without a doubt, that was the lowest moment of my life.
Brianna: For those who don’t know, what is POTS?
Hannah: POTS is under this umbrella of Dysautonomia. Dysautonomia is the dysfunction of your autoimmune system. They think my POTS was triggered by an enormous growth spurt that I had. They think POTS is triggered by trauma. After I quit gymnastics — before I was so much shorter than I am now; I was 4’5” on a good day — within a year, I grew over eight inches.
Hannah: When my friends figured out what I was going through, they were like, “Hannah, why didn’t you tell me? I’m here for you.” When I realized that the people closest to me were here for me, something clicked. I realized that I wasn’t the only one going through this. I saw people’s cut marks when I went back to school. What I went through was terrible, and I think I can prevent someone from going through this if I share my story. That might stop another parent from having to wake up four or five times at night to make sure that their child is still breathing. That was awful for my mom to go through.
Brianna: Tell me about the moment you came up with the idea for notOK. What was that moment like?
Hannah: The moment I came up with the idea for the app was, in one word, chaotic. I had just attempted [suicide]. My mom caught me during the middle of my attempt. She started asking me all these questions. She was shaken up. There were so many tears. My mom was crying and holding me. I was crying because I wanted to live, but I didn’t see an end to the pain I was causing myself, my parents, and my brother. [The actual app creation] started with just brainstorming. I would carry around this notebook, and when I thought of anything notOK related, I would just jot it down really quick. I even have old sketches of what the app would look like. My brother was working alongside me. He was wireframing [that became the prototype app we sent to developers], and he tried to code it originally.
Brianna: So, you were looking at other apps that helped with distress and other types of mental health. What did you find?
Hannah: I found that they were apps you can tell were created by adults. They’re apps that expect me to reach out, but it’s more like a phone call. Some people might not be comfortable with a phone call because they don’t know the words to say. Some people are more comfortable with a text because with 3D touch, you can read the entire text without the other person knowing that you read it until you come up with the right words to say.
Hannah: My app is different because when you press the notOK button, not only does it send a text out to all of your contacts at once, it gives them your GPS location. That can be crucial when you’re in a scenario when you need help. I use notOK for my mental health because I’m still going through depression. I’m getting better at managing it … [but] when I feel like I’m about to pass out, I just tap the button.
Brianna: Who should be using this app?
Hannah: In my opinion, everyone should be using the app. This app isn’t for a specific age, gender, race, anything. This app is for anyone who is not OK, whatever that means to you.
Brianna: What has the feedback been like, so far?
Hannah: It’s so incredibly uplifting. People are always sliding into the DMs, and I’ve been able to connect with a lot of POTSies. They’re always telling me their struggles with POTS and managing the mental health aspect of it. With POTS, it changes your entire life with the diagnosis, and there’s a huge mental health factor. Recently, I was messaged by another POTSie who said she went through the same things I did. She was like, “I need this app for my mental health and my POTS.” We’ve received some feedback from recovering addicts, who’ve been through the rehabilitation process. They’ve said the app is their mobile support group.
Hannah: What I see for this app is becoming personal. I see people looking at me and Charlie and our stories and realizing that they’re not alone. I see our app becoming something that you see the logo and you know. What I see for myself in the future is doing a dual major, engineering being one of the majors, and probably political science being the other. Going into an engineering major, I see myself standing up to the stereotypes. Engineering is a majority male world. In my engineering class, in a class of over 35 [students], there are only five girls, and I’m the only Black girl in my class. I see myself standing up to the stereotype and eventually crushing it and encouraging young girls like me to enter the S.T.E.M. world and not be intimidated.
Brianna: How do you think people view mental health now?
Hannah: Mental health is becoming more of a known issue. It’s always been the elephant in the room that nobody talks about, but now people are starting to talk about it. I see our app coming to the forefront of that. I see when people talk about mental health, they immediately associate notOK with that. And that it’s OK to end the stigma, and it’s OK to be not OK.
*This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and space and originally ran in our fall 2018 issue. Subscribe here to get the current issue, on sale now.
** All photos taken by Brianna Moné, with the exception of the Instagram photo.