Kala Allen lifts up the voiceless through research and volunteerism

Miami University – Top Stories

Kala Allen relishes the rice dishes of Nigeria and found friends among the residents. (Photo courtesy of Allen.)
By Carole Johnson, university news and communications
Miami alumna Kala Allen still hears her longtime friend’s voice when she does research. Brian committed suicide when Allen was 19.Four years later, Allen is now in Nigeria, Africa. The recipient of a coveted Fulbright U.S. Student Program award in psychology, she’s studying cultural differences between Western and developing nations related to suicide and looking for what is common.In her personal blog, she recently described Brian — “an exceptional athlete, a warm, funny and kind African American man.” He mentored her when she ran track in high school, and his death hurt her. The grief process didn’t feel right to her. In just three days, it seemed like most people in her community went back to the “normal” way of thinking about suicide.They said, “.… ‘We don’t need a therapist, that’s for white people,’ ‘I’m too strong for a therapist’ and even ‘Jesus is my psychiatrist,’” she wrote in her blog.Their reaction toward mental health set Allen on a path to help people with suicidal thoughts speak up.She is conducting research at the World Health Organization at the University of Ibadan. She’s looking for patterns of thought processes toward mental health in Western and developing nations.In the United States, the suicide rate is 12.1 per 100,000 people, she reported in her Fulbright application. Researchers found that religion can serve as a prevention or a risk factor in the U.S., and Allen wants to include data from high-risk, developing countries in that research.“Mental health continues to have a negative stigma in Nigeria and is seen as a Western problem,” she explained.But statistics prove otherwise. In Nigeria, the suicide rate is 15.1 per 100,000. Her goal is …

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