Don’t Ask For Help
Don’t Ask For Help
Anna Borges interviews notOK app creator Hannah Lucas about how to get help during intense mental health moments. The conversation covers how the app works, how communication can deepen trust, and how it can be challenging to voice our needs.
Follow Mood Ring @moodringshow
Follow Anna @annabroges
Mood Ring is a production of American Public Media and Pizza Shark.
Anna Borges: There’s a word people associate with me a lot: vulnerable. Like, my work is vulnerable and thank you for being so vulnerable. And honestly? It couldn’t be further from the truth. I SUCK at being vulnerable.
If that’s surprising to hear, it’s not just you. I didn’t know that about myself for a really long time. My therapist was kind of the first one to float the idea and I didn’t really buy it.
She kept at it, though. She was not gonna take no for an answer. At some point in our work together, she looked at me and said, “You talk openly about vulnerable things, but is that the same as actually being vulnerable?”
My therapist wasn’t impressed by my ability to write an essay about wanting to die or to tweet my way through a depressive episode. She wanted to know: Did I ever reach out to a friend when I was feeling suicidal, or did I only tell them about it when I got through the worst of it alone? Did I cry in front of other people? Like really cry? Did I let people sit with me when I was too depressed to talk, just because I needed company? Did I ask for help?
That’s the kind of vulnerability I struggle with—because honestly? Vulnerability, in my opinion, is exposing whatever is toughest to expose. And that’s what’s tough for me. And whether or not you struggle with it too, or another kind of vulnerability, I figured we could all use a little guidance around how to actually ask for support when we need it.
Hey I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings, even when those feelings are big and scary and you really want someone there with you.
Every episode, we’ll explore one new way to cope — with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brains, or with the world around us.
Reaching out to a loved one when you need support is the type of advice you hear everywhere. We know that’s what we’re supposed to do, but a lot of us just can’t get ourselves to do it, or don’t know how. Sometimes, instead of psyching yourself up to send the text or figuring out what to say in the first place, it can just feel easier to weather the storm by yourself.
So that’s why I wanted to talk to today’s guest.
Hannah Lucas is the co-creator of the notOK app. She worked with her brother Charlie to make it easier for people to reach out to loved ones when they’re, well, “not okay”. And we’ll get more into how the app works in our conversation, but for now I’ll say: It’s exactly the kind of thing that I need and what today’s episode is all about: Finding ways to ask for help without actually having to ask for help.
Anna: Hey Hannah, I'm so excited to chat.
Anna: So you created an app with your brother, so for our listeners who haven't heard of it or aren't familiar, can you just give us a little bit of history there and tell us about how it works?
Hannah: So the notOK app is essentially a digital panic button. That when pressed it alerts the user's up to five preselected trusted contacts that the user is not okay and needs help, along with the user's GPS location, just in case the trusted contacts need to physically go get them.
Anna: Absolutely, and what inspired you to create it?
Hannah: I came up for the idea for the app when I was a freshman in high school, I had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness called POTS. It stands for postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. And because of this, I was passing out all the time. I was being bullied, harassed, the whole nine. And it just made me spiral really deeply into depression and anxiety. Until one night I just, I couldn't handle the pressure anymore and I had a suicide attempt, but luckily my mom saved my life that night and I'm forever grateful for that. And that's when I knew, I desperately needed a tool to take my independence back from my chronic illness and my mental illness.
Anna: Thank you for sharing that, first of all. And I'm, I'm so glad as someone who deals with suicidal ideation and self-harm a lots always- nice isn't the word to hear, like to connect with other people who, who can relate. Like it's not nice because I hate that we can relate–
Hannah: It's comforting.
Anna: But it’s comforting. Exactly, exactly. So if someone wanted to use the notOK app, when kind of do they use it, what kind of moments is it for?
Hannah: The notOK app is a crisis tool as well as pre-crisis, my therapist and I, we like to put it this way. I rate my stress and anxiety on a scale from one to 10, one being the lowest, 10 being I need emergency services right now. So when I feel myself building up about a four or five and I just feel it rising higher and higher, I normally press the button. So it doesn't always have to get to a crisis point. But of course crises do happen, every once in a while. So the notOK app is here for that. It's here for those tough moments where you don't know the words to say, but you need help.
Anna: So I loved what you said about how it can be really, really hard to find the literal words. Why, why, it's a big question, but like why, why is it so hard?! Like, like you, you, as you say, like, we are kind of in this … cultural moment where there is, I think a little bit more mental health literacy going around. Like we have a little bit more vocabulary, like not quite everything, but at least on social media, like but in the moment, in the moment, why is it so hard to reach out and to say, Hey, I'm not okay.
Hannah: Let's face it, mental illness lies. It tells you that you're not worthy. It tells you that nobody around you cares, that you don't have people around you. So mental illness really just shuts you up and it is so difficult to break that, that silence. So I just wanted to make it as easy as possible, because sometimes it's just like, I'm sitting here and like, I'm so overwhelmed and I'm so stressed out and I'm like, I need help, but I don't know how to ask for it. You know, I don't wanna be a burden.
Anna: I'm so glad you said that because one of my, perhaps more embarrassing personal questions, is if you have any tips or guidance or solidarity for people who are nervous about asking people to be their trusted contact in the first place, you know. I feel like my, my brain goes, no, you're a burden, you don't wanna like ask them to be your go-to person. That's too much. Like how do I shut that up?
Hannah: So whenever I add someone new as a trusted contact and I feel just, I just feel so anxious and I feel so nervous about it. I'm like, what if they say no, this is a big responsibility. I don't wanna be a burden. But then I honestly think to myself, what would happen, like if I just wasn't in that person's life anymore? And I know that's a bad way to think about it, but it's like thinking logically about it. There would be a hole in their life, you know. Like all of my relationships, I try to keep it 50/50. So, you know, just for healthy boundaries and everything. But it's like, they would miss me, you know, like they're choosing to be in my life, they’re choosing to be my friend. They're choosing to be my support. So of course, you know, they would be okay with being a trusted contact, you know, they're already putting themselves in that position for me.
Anna: Absolutely. And have you found that asking them or hitting the button and reaching out to them has brought you closer with any of your trusted contacts?
Hannah: Oh, definitely. I have to say my favorite feature of this app is when you go and initially add a trusted contact, the trusted contact actually gets a text message that says, “Hey, so and so added you as a trusted contact for the notOK app.” And it gives them resources, and it tells them what a trusted contact is, and it tells them the responsibility and how to help the user. Which really is incredible on so many levels [Anna: yeah!] because a lot of people don't even know that their friends are struggling. And this opens up the conversation to say, “Hey, how can I be here for you?” You know, “how can we be there for each other? What's going on? You know, you don't always have to be perfect. It's okay. You know, your flaws are what make you beautiful.”
Anna: Yeah, oh, I love that it opens up a conversation because I, I wanted to ask, like, do you have any tips around how you might approach that conversation?
Hannah: Be vulnerable. It's the most difficult thing to do. But it's the most rewarding thing you can ever do in your life is just being vulnerable with the people who care about you. I’m not saying spill all of your secrets! [laughs] But it is okay to show them a softer side of you, you know? I don't wanna use the word damage, but … a side of you that isn't so perfect, you know, give them that chance to love those flaws of yours, you know.
After the break, we’ll talk more with Hannah about coping with her peers and keeping it real.
THEME MUSIC FADE OUT
THEME MUSIC FADE IN
Hey, welcome back. I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring. We’re talking to Hannah Lucas about the app she helped create which is sort of a digital panic button and that helps you reach out to trusted friends and loved ones when you need support.
Anna: So you're, you're gen Z. Like, so just, I was just talking to my producer, Georgie, about how, you know, when I was growing up on the internet, like the life that I was putting out there, you know, like on Instagram or on Twitter was definitely like a better view of my life, but I never felt the pressure for like perfection.
Hannah: Yeah, exactly. But it's like, I was striving so hard for, for perfection. And it's like, all you see on social media is those perfect moments. You know, you don't see those flaws. You don't see them being who they are. You see these little bits and snippets of their life. And it's like, my life isn't as exciting. You know, I'm not as pretty, I'm not as skinny, you know, I'm not as fit, you know? It's just all those, it was a lot, it was a lot.
Anna: I wanna stick on like vulnerability for a second because I, I really love that. I'm curious how you're seeing in your social spaces on social media or IRL, this move toward more vulnerability. Are you seeing it in your circles or is it something that you've really introduced to them?
Hannah: You know, that's an interesting question. I think it's a little bit of both. My view on technology and social media it's changed drastically, but now I view it as more of a black mirror. You can find anything and everything on the internet, but it's a reflection of what you wanna see. Like, are you making the choice to follow these people who positively impact you, or are you following all the gossips and the drama and things that are just going to feed you negative energy, 24/7, you know? And with my friend group … I’d say that it was kind of difficult for my friends to be real. Like, I don't even wanna say vulnerable, but, just be real with everyone and even themselves with what's going on. But, it started with a conversation. We all had to have like a little group talk, on how we can do better and be better people and really grow. And it, at the end of the day, we all had to make a choice, you know, are we going to choose to be a little bit more vulnerable? Or are we gonna strive for the impossible perfection?
Anna: But I would love to ask about, kind of what comes after asking for help, because for me, one of, one of the things that's hard about asking for support or even getting asked for help is like, how you do that? You know, like, like literally, and I know it's different situation to situation, but do you have any tips for giving your loved ones guidance on the best way to support you in these moments of need?
Hannah: Everybody's different. But I will say have that honest trust, that honest conversation with your trusted contacts, when you first add them as a trusted contact. Work with them to figure out and create a safety plan for what to do when you're in these situations. Figure out coping mechanisms to bring you down … you know, when you've, when you feel the pressure rising.
Anna: I am curious if like, do you have, what are some of your hopes for the future of this kind of support and communication and being able to talk about mental health?
Hannah: Honestly my dream is that this app helps people realize that mental health and mental illness isn't that big of a deal. And what I mean by that is just treating it immediately when you see the signs, you know, you don't have to deal with the stigma. Just go get help, cause that's the most important thing.
Anna: Absolutely. And I'm so glad that that is changing.
Hannah: Yeah, it’s about time. [Laughs]
Anna: Well, Hannah, thank you so much for chatting with me today. It's been, it's been a blast.
Hannah: Thank you so much for having me.
Anna Borges: There may never be a quick and easy way to make the terrifying ordeal of letting other people in less terrifying, but Hannah did find a way to help skip some of the most intimidating steps.
I’ll be honest. I’m still in the early stages of even considering using something like the notOK app. But I’m taking baby steps to ask for help in my way.
For example, I went through a period pretty recently where I was not okay. And when I was in it, I withdrew from my friends like usual. But this time, when I rejoined the land of the living and told a friend about what happened, I also decided to try saying something like: “Hey. I don’t ask for help when I need it because it’s hard, but it’s something I’m working on so if you notice me isolating, I would really appreciate you reaching out.”
For now, that’s my version of the notOK app—asking my friends to help me out so I don’t have to ask for it. Baby steps. And maybe there are baby steps that would work for you, too. Maybe you have a codeword that you text when you’re not okay. but it’s hard to say you’re not okay.
At the end of the day, it’s really about finding ways to make the hard parts—whatever the hard parts are for you—a little easier.
And hey if you have any other small exercises in vulnerability to share, I could use all of the baby steps I could get.
Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps if you rate, review and share this episode with your friends.
You can even tag me if you’re really into it — I’m @AnnaBroges on Twitter – that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S … because Anna Borges was taken. We want to hear from you. You can get in touch at Moodringshow DOT ORG and click “Contact Us.” Or follow Mood Ring Show on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call and leave us a message at 833-666-3746.
Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Georgina Hahn. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce this show too.
APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
Thanks again for listening and I hope to see you next episode!
MUSIC FADE OUT