Mental Health Champions: How Allie Marie Smith of Wonderfully Made Is Helping To Promote Mental Wellness
Choose to live a clean and healthy lifestyle. For me, that means religiously guarding my sleep, managing my stress, and regularly exercising, and making beneficial food choices as well as refraining from drugs and alcohol entirely.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Allie Marie Smith.
Allie Marie Smith is the Founder and Director of Wonderfully Made®, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping teen girls and young women know their true value. She is an award-winning author, speaker, podcast host, and certified life coach. She lives in North Santa Barbara County where she loves surfing and adventuring up and down the California coast with her husband, Paul, and Golden Retriever, Gidget. For more information visit www.wonderfullymade.org.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was a good girl from a good home. I had a freckled face that would turn tomato red after my soccer games and was a tomboy with missing front teeth who still loved to play dress up in my mom’s high heels and pearls. Around the age of twelve, my confidence and feistiness began to fade as I experienced unexplained feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, and loneliness. Looking back, I now know those were the early symptoms of depression that almost took my life at the age of eighteen and again at twenty-one.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
I am the Founder and Executive Director of Wonderfully Made (wonderfullymade.org). We are a faith-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping teen girls and young women know their value and live spiritually, emotionally, and mentally healthy lives. Young women are living in a ruthless culture that tells them their worth is found in their appearance, accomplishments, and influence. Many are suffering from the toxicity of social media and often question their identity and purpose. Today, about one in four young women are grappling with a mental health issue while also dealing with the everyday pressures of life. According to the CDC, at one point during the COVID-19 pandemic, the suicide rate for teenage girls rose fifty-one percent. Our organization, Wonderfully Made, is on a mission to tell young women that they have been lovingly and wonderfully made for a purpose, that they are profoundly loved, and their life matters immensely.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My pain became my purpose. Since I was a young girl, I struggled emotionally and mentally even though I had a great upbringing, and everything looked fine on the outside. My experience with insecurity, food and body image issues and severe mental health challenges have given me empathy for girls and young women who are going through the same challenges. I used to believe the lie that the world was better off without me in it, but today I believe it is more beautiful because I am still here. By grace, I have gone from being at war with myself to being at peace. I want this for the countless girls and women who are their own worst enemies and are barely surviving. I want girls and young women to know that their struggle is not their identity and that there is so much hope for whatever they are going through. I believe when a young woman truly knows her value, it changes everything. Today, I am thriving as an author, non-profit leader, and wife despite living with my mental health diagnosis. I genuinely believe that with the right support and help, any girl can rise above her mental health challenges.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up, and do it? What was that final trigger?
I have had a passion to help girls know their worth since I was fifteen and was trying to get through my own identity and mental health issues. During my second hospitalization for depression at the age of 18 after trying to start college on the East Coast, my life was in shattered pieces. People in my life began praying for and as I started to get the help, I needed I began to read the Bible for the first time. I came across a prayer in Psalm 139 in which the psalmist says to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully [lovingly] and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full fell.” This prayer became an anthem over my life that told me I had worth and value when depression told me I was not worthy of living. As I read that Psalm, I knew that was going to be the name of the organization I felt led to start. Once I got to a healthier spot, I put up a poster on my college campus inviting women to be a part of a positive community. We have since reached a few hundred thousand girls and young women through our events, podcast, films, and resources over the past 18 years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Our organization began hosting young women’s conferences in 2009 to provide young women with hope and inspiration. We hosted two in Hawaii and got connected with professional surfer Bethany Hamilton who is a phenomenal role model for girls. Bethany has an organization called “The Beautifully Flawed Foundation” and soon thereafter our two organizations joined forces to offer six young women conferences in Southern California called “Anchored In Love” for thousands of young women and their moms and mentors. Though we are not offering any currently, the conferences always prove to be a life-changing day for the girls and women who attend. The stories that come out of the day are so moving and remind us how needed the work of our organization is.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I discovered one of my mentors on a bookshelf. I picked up her book and felt instantly connected to her and reached out only to discover she lived twenty minutes from my parent’s house. She was so kind to meet with me and has since become a treasured mentor who has seen me through many ups and downs. She understands the challenges I have faced but sees me for who I am and is always there to encourage me with the truth.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Mental illness has been misunderstood and mistreated for so long because of its relative obscurity. An x-ray can show the exact fracture point of a broken bone, but without brain scans, which are expensive and difficult to do, you cannot see the physiology of a brain struggling with a mental illness. This leaves at least part of mental illness intangible. And because we cannot see the source of the brokenness, we might believe we are broken. We may judge our character, when our chemistry, circumstances, or several other factors may be the problem. I think educating ourselves and each other on mental illness will help us have compassion for ourselves and anyone suffering.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I think individuals can better educate themselves on the symptoms, warning signs, and treatment options of mental illness so they know how to better love and support someone in their life who may be struggling. In society, organizations such as hospitals, community centers, and churches can provide beneficial and educational services such as support groups and lectures that can provide necessary resources to individuals and families. As for the government, I am especially hopeful that Congress will somehow hold Facebook accountable for putting profits before the health and well-being of Instagram’s young users. Overwhelming evidence has shown us how toxic Instagram is to the mental health of teen girls which seems to have attributed to the rising suicide rates since the onset of smartphones and social media in 2010.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Choose to live a clean and healthy lifestyle. For me, that means religiously guarding my sleep, managing my stress, and regularly exercising, and making beneficial food choices as well as refraining from drugs and alcohol entirely.
- Identify the things that are not serving me well and pull them from my life. A big part of taking care of my health means managing inputs such as the news and social media.
- Take medication, vitamins, and supplements daily with gratitude. Every Sunday, I take out my pill box and fill it, so I never miss taking anything.
- Resist spiraling into negative thinking as much as possible and renew my mind by thinking true thoughts and meditating on truths and affirmations and practicing Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
- Pursue my passions including surfing, being outdoors, writing, and helping teen girls and young women through the organization I started.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I appreciate the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf. I am also grateful for “Hope for Mental Health” led by Rick and Kay Warren. I also appreciate the podcast “Faith and Mental Wellness Podcast” by Brittany Moses.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We come alive and find freedom when we choose to live outward-focused lives where we love one another and treat each other with kindness and dignity. Find a cause you are passionate about and give yourself to it.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me at alliemariesmith.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: How Allie Marie Smith of Wonderfully Made Is Helping To Promote Mental… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.