Public Health Faculty Member Committed to Mental Health Awareness, Suicide Prevention

By Kev' Moye

“I love collaborative, community-based mental health research,” she said. “I’m passionate about the mental health of my fellow Arkansans. Everything I do is my way of giving back to my community and helping to solve issues associated with mental health.”

Allison, an assistant professor in the college’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, developed her passion for mental health years ago while working for the Arkansas Department of Health. Allison, who was also a graduate student in the college at the time, participated in projects that led her to recognize the increasing rates in suicide and how it was becoming one of the leading causes of injury-death in Arkansas.

“Suicide heavily impacts our communities,” she said. “Unfortunately, suicide is a stigmatized topic we don’t talk enough about. Mental health itself is a stigmatized topic we don’t talk enough about. Through my research at UAMS and through my community service, I want to help change that.”

Professionally, Allison is using research to create opportunities for people to have those candid conversations about suicide — most notably in Arkansas jails.

Allison, Melissa J. Zielinski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Susie Reece, a committee chair with the Arkansas chapter of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), are conducting a community-based participatory research (CBPR) study in which they’re identifying ways to implement suicide prevention education in jails. The pilot locations are the Garland County Detention Center and the Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center.

The UAMS Translational Research Institute is funding the one-year study, which began in March 2022, with a $45,000 CBPR Pilot Award.

The two UAMS faculty members are part of a community group of mental health advocates, correctional facility professionals and mental health professionals working to address suicide in jails.

“The leadership at the jails recognized the need for their staff to be trained in suicide prevention,” Allison said. “Thanks to funding from the UAMS Translational Research Institute and our partnership with AFSP, we are able to help these facilities in Arkansas provide training for their staff as they strive to maintain safety for detained individuals and corrections officers.”

Over the years, the growth of suicide in jails has become a nationwide issue. In fact, AFSP has made suicide prevention in corrections settings one of its national priorities.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death in jails in the U.S.,” Allison said. “It needs attention.”

Allison appreciates the opportunity to use research to help stop suicide in jails.

She’s just as committed to serving her community as a volunteer. Through connections made as a researcher, along with being recently appointed to the AFSP Arkansas chapter Board of Directors, she’s helping to connect suicide researchers statewide and improve our capacity to do suicide prevention research in Arkansas.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to expand research connections through the AFSP Arkansas chapter,” she said. “I want to make sure that everyone researching an aspect of suicide is collaborating and aware of each other’s work in Arkansas and that we also have access to AFSP national resources.”

Not only is the Arkansas chapter providing suicide research connections, but it also offers educational opportunities for the public. The nonprofit also provides supportive services for families that have lost a loved one to suicide. Additionally, it holds annual “Out of the Dark” community walks across the state for Arkansans to come together to walk in recognition of people lost to suicide and raise awareness about suicide in their community.

Allison said she hopes to champion the importance of community members and groups working together to reduce suicide.

“There isn’t just one strategy that will end suicide,” she said. “It takes health care professionals, community-based groups, churches, schools — all of the different stakeholders — working together to raise awareness of suicide, promote mental health care, have open conversations about mental health and suicide, and ultimately help to save lives.”

“I feel lucky to do this kind of work. I’m passionate about solving this issue and promoting suicide prevention. That’s why I volunteer with AFSP — because they’re doing such phenomenal work in our community and across the country.”

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Lifeline by dialing 988. As for mental health assistance as a whole, UAMSHealth AR ConnectNow is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn more about AFSP or to become a volunteer, visit