Olivia Proe

What Are Perfect Places, Anyway? Exploring the New Zealand Government’s Approach to Youth Suicide Prevention

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Olivia Proe
Major: Sociology
Advisors: Dr. Heather Fitz Gibbon and Dr. Tom Tierney

This study utilizes New Zealand as a case study in exploring government suicide prevention strategies for youth. As the OECD country with the highest youth suicide rate, it is a unique case, as the World Happiness Report has consistently ranked it one of the world’s happiest countries. This study seeks to understand what makes New Zealand stand out from other countries in its youth suicide rate, as well as how youth perceive the government’s efforts to prevent suicide among their age cohort. It explores how the population’s relationship with the state has evolved over time with changes in economic structure, discussing how suicide prevention models have necessarily shifted in tandem. It also discusses youth opinions of the New Zealand government’s most recent suicide prevention efforts, analyzing how they see the state’s role in promoting mental wellbeing. The study finds that youth do not see the social processes that contribute to mental distress addressed in government prevention strategies. While they understand the main reasons for suicide to be structural and cultural in nature, the government frames suicide prevention as an issue of interpersonal responsibility, rendering it useless to their age demographic because their perceptions are not reflected in prevention efforts. Future suicide prevention strategies that are aimed towards youth must reflect a notion of hope and working towards societal change in order for them to be most effective.


Olivia will be online to field comments on April 16:
4-6pm EDT (PST: 1-3pm, Africa/Europe: late evening)

70 thoughts on “What Are Perfect Places, Anyway? Exploring the New Zealand Government’s Approach to Youth Suicide Prevention”

    1. Thank you, Dr. Fitz Gibbon! Couldn’t have done it without your support this year.

  1. Congratulations, Olivia, on the completion of your I.S. and your upcoming graduation!! It is awesome to see your senior research because I remember you from class in Scovel several years ago. Good luck as you enter the next chapter of your life.

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Judge! I loved your class in geology of national parks and I’m so glad you came today!

    2. Dr Judge—Olivia is first cousin to Matthew and Daniel Peppers. You figured prominently in Matthew’s Wooster career, helped Daniel get settled in as a freshman, and continue to be a booster to all Wooster students, as evidenced by remembering Olivia from a class years ago. You represent the best of Wooster—caring, committed faculty.
      And now to watch the absolute best of Wooster—Olivia presenting her IS!

  2. Congratulations on the completion of your I.S. It is an interesting project. Appreciate all of your efforts with Scot Council this year as well. Best of luck post graduation. Go Scots!

    1. Thank you so much, Jennie! It was wonderful working with you and the trustees this year. I appreciate you coming!

  3. Your slides are fantastic, and convey your extensive research very effectively and concisely. Perfect complement to your thesis.

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Tierney! Your research was one of my key sources and helped immensely in this process. So glad you enjoyed the results.

  4. Olivia, your project focuses on a difficult topic, and you have approached it thoughtfully and intelligently. I am so proud of and impressed by your work this year!

  5. Best wishes for a great presentation, Olivia! Your slides are very informative. This is such a worthwhile topic for you to have chosen to study. Congratulations on this achievement!

    1. Thank you so much, Dottie! I’m honored you came to my presentation. Miss you and I hope you’re doing well.

  6. Fantastic work, Olivia. In your study, your participants raise unrealistic societal expectations associated with masculinity as a contributing factor to youth suicide. How did the prevalence of suicide among the youth intersect with other identities such as gender, race, etc.? Congratulations on completing this interesting and important project.

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Miyawaki! Your comment means a lot. My research indicated that men are disproportionately affected by suicide mainly due to stigma around seeking help, and New Zealand’s indigenous Maori population is also affected more than the white/Pakeha demographic due to the ramifications of colonialism and racism.

      One aspect of future action that you might find interesting is how indigenous models of health can be incorporated into suicide prevention strategies. In my IS, I discussed the “fale” model, which is the Maori conception of wellbeing. It takes a more community-focused approach to health, which I think other models of medicine could learn from.

  7. I’m taking a page out of THE Sam Casey’s book at will be live on Zoom to give two presentations: one at 4pm and one at 5pm. If you can’t make it, I’ll be answering your comments today as well!

    Olivia Proe is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

    Topic: Olivia’s Symposium
    Time: Apr 16, 2021 04:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

    Join Zoom Meeting

    Meeting ID: 787 9156 6940
    Passcode: wg1n3S

  8. Congrats Olivia! Proud of all your hard work and your thoughtful approach at studying a difficult and emotional topic.

  9. A splendid project Olivia!

    I’m intrigued when you say that “rapid transition from an agricultural to neo-liberal economy” is one of the drivers of suicide rates in New Zealand. Can you elaborate a bit further on this as a cause? Additionally, is geographic location (rural vs urban or North Island vs South Island etc) an important variable in increased suicide rates?

    1. Cormac!! Thank you so much. I’ll be getting into the specifics more on the Zoom today (and as one of the best history scholars I know, you may enjoy the historical context I’ll discuss.) Durkheim’s earliest sociological work observed that rapid social change led to a spike in the suicide rate. He of course was studying the after effects of the French Revolution in his time, which is slightly different than my case study, but the principle remains–economic restructuring that happens quickly can leave people without a sense of community or regulation, which can lead to suicide.
      Interestingly, New Zealand government statistics indicate that there is no significant difference between urban and rural suicide rates, which points to larger cultural and economic issues at the root of New Zealand’s suicide rate.

  10. This is a comprehensive sociological study, from how participants understood mental distress to their understanding of NZ’s government and its intentions. Great job!

    1. Thank you so much, Alex! Always going to look back fondly on our NZ study abroad experience. I’m glad you enjoyed!

  11. Amazing work, Olivia! Thanks for sharing such a beautiful presentation of your important research. I’ll be sure to tune in later today to hear more!

  12. Olivia! Congrats on finishing your thesis. I know that you got to study abroad in New Zealand as well and I think you did a great job tackling such an important topic.

  13. Nice work! I have enjoyed hearing you speak about research throughout the year. Thank you for sharing it with us 🙂

  14. Olivia this is absolutely splendid to finally see in fruition! I loved hearing you talk about your passion for this and I know how much New Zealand means to you! Suicide rates and suicide prevention are such rising topics currently, and I think looking at outer factors like this facilities a wider conversation in welfare that many governments are lacking in social and equitable awareness. So very well done!

  15. After spending so much time on Durkheim in Tierney’s classes, it’s very cool to see it applied to an IS! Amazing job Olivia!!

  16. Amazing job, Olivia! Youth suicide is such an important topic that is close to my heart and the hearts of many others and I applaud you for choosing to research this topic. As a college student, what do you think the most important step is that colleges/universities can take to provide better mental health resources on campus? Great job again 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Anna! It means a lot to know you enjoyed it; it’s a personally important topic to me as well. I think the best thing universities can do for student mental health is to expand resources so everyone can access them without counselors being overworked. I also think it’s important that mental health resources are culturally competent and can accommodate for all identities across race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

  17. Since this senior year wasn’t enough work already, you just decided to help NZ solve their high suicide rate – not even surprised! I know you worked so hard on this and it really came together so well! PPT was very informative and I’m curious to learn more. Congrats Prez!!

  18. Olivia,

    Congratulations on an (unfortunately) topical and timely IS project. I’m impressed by the depth of your research and wondering about its relevance to the US. So many of the issues you highlight are in evidence here as well: poverty, lack of mental health awareness and resources, racial/ethnic discrimination, confining gender roles, etc. Do you think media coverage, or social media, contribute to suicide in Kiwi teens? Did any of your research subjects talk about that?

    You’ve certainly make the most of your time at Wooster, through your leadership, study abroad, etc. You have left the College better than you found it. It’s been an honor to be a longtime member of your fan club.

    Wishing you the best in your next chapter, and hope to see you soon.

    1. Thank you so much, Mary! Surprisingly, none of my participants felt that media coverage or social media to be contributing factors in the youth suicide rate. One of the components of New Zealand’s 2006-2016 suicide prevention strategy was promoting responsible media coverage around suicide. While I am sure their approach has not been perfect, it seems to be effective in how it portrays the issue ethically. I think many of the structural issues we talked about could hopefully have wider implications to other countries as well.

      Thank you again for coming! I hope to see you soon too! 🙂

  19. Olivia, this is so interesting! I was actually just looking at Durkheim for the novel revision I’m finishing while on leave (set in 1897-1900). The question of your respondents understanding collective/structural trauma as contributing to suicide vs. the more individualist government response is really vital. It’s a similar dichotomy to what Amitav Ghosh describes in The Great Derangement about why we’re so bad at creating narratives that address climate change. Great work. Congrats & best wishes!

    1. Thank you, Dr. Beutner! That’s so interesting that you’ve seen connections across disciplines, especially in literature. I agree that creating the right narratives around societal topics is challenging since it’s hard to decenter the individual in issues like suicide and climate change. I’m so glad you could make it!

  20. Congratulations Olivia! I am so proud of how you handled this hard topic with this thesis, and how you grown over these four years! The girlboss energy is everything!

  21. Thanks for such a wonderful and important presentation, Olivia! It was fascinating to hear more about your research on NZ, especially to compare the remarkable similarities with how mental health and suicide prevention is discussed in Denmark (where I studied abroad), often considered a country with the “happiest” population in the world. Congrats!

    1. Thank you, Claire! That’s so interesting that there were some similarities between NZ and Denmark as happy countries with similar needs to prevent suicide. Congrats on your IS too! 🙂

  22. Wonderful Zoom presentation, Olivia! Your fluency attests to the many hours and deep dive you took into your research. The Wooster IS capstone is an experience that will follow thru into your post-college life. Kudos for taking on a very important topic.

    1. Thank you so much for coming, Aunt Bird! I’m glad you enjoyed as someone who’s attended a few IS Symposia. So glad you could make it!

  23. Hi Olivia, Thanks so much for the eye-opening study – I didn’t know about this aspect of the ‘happiest’ country. Important work on an important topic…very well done. Congrats and best of luck! PS This is a general comment after looking at many of these presentations: As an old Woo grad, I am so happy to be able to view them online, and then see the positive support that students extend to each other…as you have exemplified so well! Thanks for your contribution.

    1. Roger, thank you! I’m so glad you could come back to symposium and enjoy it in this new format. Thank you for coming!

  24. All of your hard work definitely paid off, this project is so wonderful. Congrats Olivia. You’re gonna do great things!

  25. Such interesting findings, Olivia! I was wonder what are other effective suicide prevention strategies other countries have used and why are they effective?

    1. Thank you for coming, Joelle! I know we both share our love for NZ so I hope you enjoyed. I only got a chance to focus on NZ but it could be really interesting for future research to see what other countries have done that’s worked well!

  26. OP! What a huge topic you’ve tackled with immense grace. Your grasp of theory is great and your passion for this project is definitely apparent. (and your IS gives #sociologyandsuffering a whole new context)

    1. Thank you so much, Hannah! It means so much to me that you enjoyed. What is sociology but understanding (and hopefully alleviating) suffering? Come back to visit soon!

  27. Olivia, congratulations on finishing your thesis! It was very well organized, and I learned a lot about a really difficult topic. Thank you for taking the time to share!

    1. Thank you, Matt!! I’m so glad you could come and appreciate IS after tackling the beast yourself just a few years back.

  28. Amazing work, Olivia! This was such an interesting project on an important topic!

  29. Congratulations, Olivia! This is a really interesting and important IS topic. The contrast between what the government is putting out there and the ways it meets (or more typically, fails to meet) the mental health needs of the community is really striking. Such an important reminder of how important it is to listen – really listen – to those who are impacted by policies. I will take that reminder with me!

    Thank you so much for all of your terrific leadership of the Wooster community through this incredibly difficult year. You have done excellent work in the most challenging of circumstances, and you will do great things wherever you go in life after graduation!!

  30. Congratulations, Olivia! This is such an important topic and it was fun to see the conclusion of all of your hard work!

  31. Congratulations, Olivia. Thank you for sharing your research and hard work with us. It has been my privilege to watch you work this year in your leadership on Scot Council. All you have done for the College and your investment in Wooster is always apparent. All the best to you in your pursuits.

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