In March of 2021, mental health advocate Lee MacMillan tragically lost her battle with depression. She was 28. However, her legacy of advocacy lives on.
The Mental Wellness Center has announced a partnership with the #SpeakupforLee campaign to fund improved mental health awareness in Santa Barbara and support the youth education provided by the Mental Wellness Center in Santa Barbara.
The #SpeakupforLee campaign originated as a memorial for Lee MacMillan, a social media influencer known for documenting her globetrotting on Instagram and YouTube. She attained notoriety for traveling from her native land of Canada to the tip of South America in a Dodge Sprinter with her boyfriend and their dog. In early 2020, MacMillan began a Sprinter Tour of Morocco with two fellow influencer friends, but their trip was cut short by COVID-19, after which MacMillan moved to Santa Barbara.
MacMillan was open in her social media posts about her struggles with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and was an outspoken advocate for others who may also be facing mental health challenges. MacMillan lost her life to depression in March of 2021 when she died by suicide. Her influence for good, however, did not stop there.
MacMillan’s family decided to continue Lee’s advocacy work by raising money to help remove the stigma around talking about mental health and to spread awareness of the damaging consequences of cyberbullying.
“If we can do one thing for Lee now, in the midst of this soul-crushing loss, it’s to spread the message that mental health is just as real as physical health, and that illness can strike anyone, no matter how unlikely they may seem,” explains the MacMillan family.”
“Lee’s struggles with her mental health were also compounded in her last months of life by persistent and often vicious cyberbullying and we want to drive home the point that cyberbullying has real life consequences—the people on the other side of the screen have real lives, real feelings and real struggles of their own,” the fundraiser’s page goes on.
The MacMillan family has donated money to several mental health and cyberbullying awareness organizations. Their new partnership with the Mental Wellness Center seeks to send funds directly to youth education supporting mental health awareness, including Mental Health Matters, a program designed to introduce basic facts about mental health to youths of all ages, and Wellness Connection, a high school leadership program that educates and empowers students to become mental health “Upstanders.”
Dawson Kelly, president of the Mental Wellness Connection and a junior at San Marcos high School, gave some insight into what it’s like to be a high school student today, illuminating why he believes an investment in mental health resources is so crucial to the long-term mental health of teens.
“There have always been mental struggles that come with our teenage years,” Kelly said. “COVID-19 has not only heightened these struggles, but it has shed a light on the discrepancies in how we treat them. That’s why I believe it is vital to the livelihood of my peers that we properly educate students on what proper mental health looks like and how to get the proper resources you need.”
“It is important to focus on being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to allocating the resources we have for youth metal health,” Kelly went on. “If we can prevent crises from happening through early intervention and education then less time and money will be spent and less people will be hurt by mental health crises. That is why pushing for mandatory mental health education in schools early on is a huge part of the youth wellness connection goals.”
Kelly is also the student board member for the Santa Barbara unified school district where he works with the district to implement more mental health education opportunities and resources for students. Providing information on cyberbullying is a big part of this effort.
“Bullying takes many forms, whether it is digital or in person,” said Kelly. “If we are able to foster more conversations where we truly listen to each other for who we are in schools then I believe that the problems we have will lessen. We often act negatively towards things that are unknown, so iif we can better understand perspectives from people who are different from us then we can grow to become more compassionate towards one another.”
The proceeds from the MacMillan family’s donation to the Mental Wellness Center will help the Center and Dawson Kelly accomplish these goals.
“We feel honored and privileged to continue Lee’s legacy with the initial gift of $30,000 from the MacMillan family,” said Annmarie Cameron, CEO of the Mental Wellness Center. “We invite the community to add their support, with these and future funds, we will work to empower and engage more students to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health. This is done by promoting self-care, connection, kindness, education, prevention and outreach amongst teen peers.”
About Mental Wellness Center
The Mental Wellness Center is a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness around mental health by providing supportive programming, education, and housing in Santa Barbara. For more information about the Mental Wellness Center, visit: www.mentalwellnesscenter.org.