Canadian creator Jessii Vee has amassed an enormous online following by sharing weird creepy stories interweaved with videos about her mental health struggles, from being bullied as a kid to to living with anxiety and depression. She also reveals about her ongoing challenges with Lyme Disease. Her YouTube channel is hovering at 2.6M followers, and her TikTok audience has surpassed that, clocking in at 3.8M fans. Wow.
We first connected with Jessii in 2019, when she was starring in dark comedic web series Running With Violet. It was around that time that she launched You Are Not Alone (YANA), an initiative to create safe real-life spaces in schools, rooted in kindness and acceptance, where teens feeling targeted or bullied could find sincere and authentic community and connection. Her massive following helped lock in approximately 50 schools, and when the pandemic hit, Jessii moved the initiative online, creating a dedicated YANA Instagram page that has since grown to 27K.
Curious and impressed, we connected with Jessi to find out how she grew her fanbase to the biggest lessons she’s learned this past year.
You’ve grown an enormous following, if you had to identify one thing that really helped you grow, what do you think it would be?
When I first started my YouTube channel it was really important to discuss topics that many people were afraid to talk about such as anxiety, depression, bullying, isolation, etc. I think that’s one of the main reasons why my channel grew quickly… people felt like they had someone to relate to. I told stories about all of my struggles growing up and received so much positive feedback from people telling me that they felt less alone hearing that someone was going through the same things that they were. Even though my channel isn’t focused around storytimes anymore, I still take any opportunity I have to spread awareness for mental health.
What inspired you to create You Are Not Alone? How are people engaging with the community?
Believe it or not I was an incredibly shy kid growing up and I suffered with severe anxiety, and because of that I was a target for bullying. It was difficult for me to make friends and I spent many of my lunch breaks alone in the library or in a bathroom stall to escape the stress of school. This is ultimately what inspired me to start the YANA movement. YANA is a group created in a school where people come together and reach out to students that are feeling isolated or bullied. It’s a place to make friends and feel supported. If I had a welcoming place like this to escape to when I was in school things would have been so much easier for me.
What is something you love about sharing your story with youth?
Whenever I share my experiences with anxiety, bullying, or chronic illness, it always makes me so happy to read comments from people telling me how much I’ve helped them. If my stories could help even one person, it would all be worth it. When I was 15 I would have loved to listen to someone talk openly about something I was going through. Because when you’re young everything seems so big; it’s so helpful to know that everything is going to be okay.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned this past year?
I’ve learned how important community is. The pandemic has been so isolating for many people and it really makes you realize how much we need a support system. That is why I moved the YANA groups online. I started an Instagram page called “Yana_group” where I post inspirational quotes to add some positivity to people’s timelines. I also do monthly livestreams called “Jess checking in” that allow me to communicate with my followers to see how they are doing in these times of struggle.
What activity or new interest has been supporting your mental health lately? Why do you think it’s been helpful?
I’ve always loved art! I went to an art high school and studied Graphic Design in college so to distract myself from this tough past year I’ve been drawing and painting in my spare time. It’s a great creative outlet for me and has always really helped me with my anxiety. I’ve also been making jewellery! I created an Instagram page called @thewhimsywonders where I post all of my newest creations. I love to be creative in any way that I can – it’s been so beneficial for my mental health.
If you were to give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Growing up I would have loved to have been told that certain things aren’t as big of a deal as you think they are. I used to think that my world was ending when I had an embarrassing moment, a breakup, a fallout with a friend, a bad grade on a project, etc. Little did I know that years down the line none of that would matter. My life was just starting and I had so much growing up to do. Heartbreak and struggle is all a part of that. Embrace life with all its ups and downs! There’s a bright future ahead of you!