A young woman whose incredible travel adventures made her an Instagram star with tens of thousands of followers was relentlessly cyberbullied and battled depression before tragically taking her own life, her family has revealed.
Canadian Lee Macmillan — who was known for her road trips in a van along with her Australian ex-partner Max Bidstrup — died last week, their @maxandlee_ Instagram page revealed on Wednesday.
Their page had over 74,000 followers, but among the fans were cruel internet trolls who abused the 27-year-old relentlessly, according to her father Wil.
“Unfortunately, Lee was subjected to significant trolling and it impacted her deeply … our collective help simply wasn’t enough to overcome the negativity that trolls inflict,” he told the Daily Mail.
The Macmillan family hope her death can bring to light the devastating impacts cyber-bullying can have on mental health.
“Online bullying is out of control worldwide and must be stopped. Those that engage in trolling must understand that there are real life consequences to their actions and we need to figure out a way to hold them and the platforms that allow it to be held accountable,” he said.
Ms Macmillan’s boyfriend Jordan Chiu wrote a heartbreaking tribute to his partner, describing her as “the brightest light” and a “magnetic force of nature” who was loved by many.
“You were a dream beyond my wildest dreams. You filled my heart up full to bursting and stretched it further than what I ever imagined was possible,” he said.
“You were my person, my partner, my best friend. Every day with you was an adventure and I hope wherever you are you’ve found peace and snuggles. Rest easy puppy. I love you more than you will ever know.”
Mr Chiu said his partner lived an “extraordinary life” and said he will miss her with “every fibre” of his heart.
“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.
“It’s OK to not be OK, it’s OK to ask for help, it’s absolutely necessary to ask for help. Lee was an advocate for mental health. She was candid and open about her own struggles.”
Mr Chiu said Ms Macmillan had been receiving help from professionals, family and friends for her depression.
“She had support around her. She was not alone, she was not trying to fight this alone. And yet she still succumbed to this terrible illness. It is more nuanced than we can, or do, appreciate or understand,” he said.
Mr Chiu has since started the ‘#speakupforlee’ hashtag, to raise awareness for mental illness and the importance of checking in on your friends.
“Let’s spread the awareness of this issue, for Lee and every one else who needs to hear this. And hold your loved ones tight. Tell them you love them. Because life can change in an instant,” he wrote.
“Life is more complex than a single social media post. Things are complicated. Don’t believe what you see online. Get out into the world and talk to your loved ones.
“Check in. Ask them genuinely how they’re doing. Be available to help. To listen. To offer help. Remove the stigma of asking for help.”
Lee and Max, who had more than 74,000 people following their epic “Vanlife” trip with Australian shepherd dog Occy from Canada to the tip of South America, saddened fans last year when they split up.
Announcing on Instagram they were going “their separate ways”, the pair admitted it was “incredibly difficult for us to talk about on here”.
They had become a couple after Mr Bidstrup, a university graduate and paramedic from Wangaratta, Victoria, took a working holiday in Canada.
When romance blossomed, they took a five-week trip to southeast Asia together before returning to Canada and set to work building a van for a longer trip.
They bought a 2006 Dodge Sprinter for about $12,300, gutted it and spent about $11,000 renovating it.
They set off on their road trip in September 2016, crossing through North America and countries in South America.
After three moths exploring the US, they spent almost half a year in Mexico, went through Panama and down to Colombia.