Write an I.S. that matters to you

Olivia Proe

Chief Copy Editor


Content Warning: Suicide and mental health challenges 


For seniors, Independent Study (I.S.) is just as much a daunting paper as it is a passion project. To write an undergraduate thesis about something, you must truly care about it — which is why many of us choose topics that hit close to home. I personally battled with choosing to write my I.S. about suicide and suicide prevention strategies in New Zealand. After spending a semester abroad there and finding a home with the people I met, they confided in me that many of them had lost a friend to suicide or struggled with suicidal thoughts themselves. I was touched that they opened up to me. However, as more and more friends that I met shared similar stories, the sociologist in me woke up: this wasn’t an individual issue; it was a public health emergency.

Still, I was hesitant to write about New Zealand’s suicide crisis because of its personal relevance. My own struggles with mental health since my adolescence made me worry that I would be unable to handle reading about it every day until March. In some ways, I was right. There are times when I struggle to finish articles or have to step away from my work for an hour or two. I see my research everywhere now: in how casually we joke about suicide (myself included), in how alienated we feel from our own lives and even in popular New Zealand media (hello, Lorde’s “Melodrama.”) 

But in many ways, burying myself in books and articles about mental health has been enlightening. I have been able to understand myself better through reading about alienation and stigma. It has also given me a chance to understand small differences I can make within my own life. Though humor is one of my favorite coping mechanisms, I am trying to be more conscious about how flippantly I discuss suicide. I also have a greater understanding of how I conceptualize my own well-being, and what privileges I have had to seek treatment for my mental health.

The most challenging change I’ve made, but also the most rewarding one, is being completely honest about my own mental health. Within the last few months, I have been open for the first time about living with bipolar disorder. Despite it being the singularly most impactful factor in my college experience, it is something I never talked about until I began my research. Were it not for the myriad sources I’d found on how to break stigmas, I may have never been fully truthful about my experiences. Now, I understand the weight that personal testimony can have on others, and I intend to share my own so we can normalize seeking help.

If any non-seniors are reading this, I’m not trying to dissuade you from writing about heavy topics or personal ones either — quite the opposite. My own experiences fill me with passion to do research every day. It’s what drags me out of bed and to my carrel, even when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed or unmotivated. I’d jump at the chance to tell anyone what I’m writing about because it’s something that’s deeply meaningful to me. At the end of my Wooster career, even if my I.S. is relegated to the stacks, I hope that the one person who might find it can find peace in my research, too.



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