Double major Allison Blair is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno graduating in May 2018. She has blended her two majors well, using English as a means to be a better writer and anthropology to learn and study human interaction over time. Blair was awarded the Leonard Scholar Award for the 2017-2018 academic year, given to two of the highest achieving English students each year. She is also in the honors program and recently completed her honors thesis on the suicide belt - a group of nine states in the west (including Nevada) with a higher suicide rate than the rest of the country.
For many who have met her, Blair seems like the typical college student, smart and driven, with ambitions to travel the world. She completed a study-abroad program in Ireland to "dig up dead bodies" as she exclaimed - part of an anthropology study. She studies hard and spends a lot of her time in the honors lounge. She even frequently posts to her personal blog about renovating an Airstream trailer, which she plans to live in upon graduation while traveling the country.
What some don't know, is she has overcome trials and challenges to get where she is today. Her thesis tells a personal story of her struggle with suicide and she hopes it will inspire many who may also be dealing with similar feelings or touch loved ones who may have lost someone to suicide.
Blair's thesis was written in three narratives. The first two narratives tell her personal story about her struggle with suicide and the family perspective of suicide loss. The third part is an anthropological look at the problem, which attempts to identify the frontier culture as a possible cause for higher suicide rates in the west. The suicide belt, as Blair explains, is a trend that goes back to the 1800s, involving nine states on the west coast, excluding California and Alaska. In her thesis, she looked at historical records and trends in suicide and the way mental health and mental illness are treated in Nevada versus other states. Blair also researched the way Hollywood has depicted the American West and the way frontier culture looks at the go-it-alone mentality.
Blair believes all of these issues potentially factor into the reason for the higher suicide rate in this region. She also looked at criminology and how it was common practice in the past to punish someone for attempting suicide. Blair found through her research that Nevada even had a law at one time that made it a crime to attempt suicide (and punishable if one survived). "People say ‘committed suicide' but I worked hard to change my own vocabulary to take away that criminalizing mentality," Blair said.
Blair's own struggle with suicide started in high school. In writing the fiction part of her thesis, she said it was difficult to put herself in her family's position and imagine a life without her. She hopes that the text may encourage someone battling with thoughts of suicide to think of all the ways their actions may affect others. She also hopes it helps family members or loved ones understand another perspective of someone who is suicidal.
Eventually, Blair would like to like to write an epilogue to her thesis and have it published. She intends to write a summary of the mental health crisis and the lack of mental health services, especially in rural areas such as Nevada, and offer suggestions on where changes can be made to help prevent suicide.
When asked why she decided to pursue this research and write a thesis, Blair said she took a fiction class and had to write a memoir as part of a class assignment. This is where her thesis idea began. "The other thing I really liked about the process is that I am very interested in interdisciplinary work - combing the different genres of fiction and non-fiction is really interesting to me."
The major inspiration for sharing her story is to hopefully change another person's life. "Primarily I wanted to show, perhaps an individual who is feeling like I did, what would happen to your loved ones," Blair said. Her thesis is currently published and available to the public in the honors library in the Jot Travis Building at the University.