Interview by Carol Wright | Photos Courtesy of Project Four PR

YouTuber Jessii Vee chatted with NYOTA about creating YANA and the importance of having conversations about mental health.

Growing up was there a particular career you originally saw yourself pursuing?

Ever since I was young I had always wanted to be an artist. I took art classes as soon as I was able to hold a pencil, I attended an arts high school, and I went to college for Graphic Design. I always saw some form of art in my future. I think the amazing thing about Youtube is that it still allows me to be creative and express myself, which is why I love it so much! I would definitely consider it a form of art! 

It’s a big leap to create videos and put yourself online. Why did making YouTube videos seem like the right path for you?

Youtube initially started off as just a hobby. When I first started posting I was still in College with a few months until I was to graduate. It was an amazing outlet that I had to just sit down and talk about my life. I was amazed when I started gaining a large following because I never thought that people cared about what I had to say, but they did. I knew right away that this was something I wanted to do for my foreseeable future. The fact that I was able to create fun, creative content and make a living was amazing! I’m also still able to incorporate Graphic design in the merch I create. 

Tell us a bit about YANA (You Are Not Alone) and what motivated you to create the platform?

YANA stands for ‘You Are Not Alone’ and it’s a group created in schools where people come together and reach out to others that are feeling isolated, alone, or bullied. It’s a place to make friends and be supported. School can be so overwhelming sometimes so it’s amazing to have a community of people that care about you. I was inspired to start this movement because growing up I really struggled in school. I was incredibly shy and was bullied quite a bit because people assumed I was weird and different. I didn’t have many friends and looking back, I would have enjoyed school so much more if I had something like YANA. 

During these times a platform like YANA seems more important than ever. How has YANA been helping your followers during the pandemic?

The pandemic has been incredibly isolating for people, so I decided to move YANA to an online platform. I started an Instagram page called @yana_group where I post inspirational quotes to add some positivity to people’s timelines. I also do a monthly livestream called “Jess Checking In” where I spend time with my subscribers to find out how they are doing, and I talk about important topics like mental health, bullying, chronic illness, etc. I’ve also been so happy to see that many of the schools that had in-person YANA groups before the pandemic hit have now started to do weekly YANA zoom calls with their students to find out how they are doing and to continue the communication and support. 

Millennials and Gen-Zers tend to discuss mental health more openly to help erase the stigma. Have you found that having these open dialogues helps remove the stigma that often surrounds mental health?

Yes! I think it’s so important to talk about mental health whenever we can. It helps people know that they aren’t going through something alone – millions of people around the world are struggling as well. I get so many messages from my followers telling me how they feel comforted having conversations about something they can personally relate to, such as anxiety, depression, etc. 

What advice do you have for aspiring content creators?

Always create content that you love and are passionate about. Avoid making videos about something that is trending, it’s so much more important and effective to be unique and to be yourself. You’ll notice your audience grow so much more when you are making something that no one else has seen before! My favorite thing to tell people is – “Embrace your weird side because normal is boring!”