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Alicia Sands Lurry, 404/616-6389,
December 18, 2001


Nia Project Gives Women Sense of Purpose, Will to Say 'No' To Intimate Partner Violence

Violent abuse by an intimate partner, combined with psychological distress, hopelessness and substance abuse all greatly increase African-American women's risk of attempting suicide, which is about six times that of Caucasian women.

Yet with proper intervention and group therapy, women can be given hope and purpose -- empowering them to feel optimistic about their future, and making them more capable of obtaining the resources they need, according to recent findings of an Emory University School of Medicine study for abused, suicidal African-American women at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focused on the assessment and treatment of abused, suicidal women, and is one of the few of its kind to link intimate partner violence (IPV) and suicidal behavior in African-American women.

As part of the study, which was presented in November at the SafeUSA Conference in Atlanta, researchers created the Nia Project: Circle of Hope, a Grady Hospital-based intervention program. Nia provides education about IPV and suicide, tips for finding resources, how to enhance social support networks, effective communication strategies, and problem-solving skills. In addition to the weekly group program, Nia — a Kwanzaa term meaning purpose - also includes a buddy system and access to a comprehensive resource room. African-American women ages 18 to 64 who have made suicide attempts and/or have been in abusive relationships in the past 12 months, are eligible for the project.

"Our goal is to help women problem-solve and extricate themselves from problematic relationships," said Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., Emory University School of Medicine professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital, and principal investigator and founder of the program. "This project is all about giving women a sense of purpose and hope."

The Nia Project is based on a series of projects conducted at Grady since1993.

The first study conducted at Grady was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and Depression and Anxiety, and included 285 African-American women who reported being in intimate relationships; 148 had come to Grady following suicide attempts; the other 137 came for medical reasons. Those who had attempted suicide were 2.5 times more likely to report physical partner abuse and 2.8 times more likely to report nonphysical (emotional) partner abuse within the prior year. In addition, women who reported IPV were less likely to engage in suicidal behavior if they felt they had access to strong social support networks.

In the second study, which will be published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 2002, researchers sought to determine what factors differentiated those African-American women with a history of IPV who attempted suicide from those abused women with no history of suicidal behavior. The sample was 200 African-American battered women; 100 presented to Grady following a non-fatal suicide attempt and 100 presented for non-emergency medical problems.

Those who had attempted suicide experienced numerous and/or severe negative life events, a history of child abuse or neglect, high levels of psychological distress and depression, hopelessness about the future, and alcohol and drug problems. The women who did not attempt suicide felt hopeful about their future, believed they were effective in their lives, had adaptive coping skills and strong social support networks, and felt capable of obtaining necessary resources.

Overall, the study concluded that because battered women often feel powerless, helpless, socially isolated and economically dependent, many turn to suicide to feel powerful, express their helplessness and hopelessness, receive attention for their pain, and/or rid themselves from an intolerable situation.

Now that the Nia Project is in place, women from all over Grady Hospital meet for 10 sessions of group intervention. The program is led by two trained counselors and seeks to empower women with information on suicide and abuse education and prevention. Each woman also has access to a resource room with reading materials and other information about domestic violence, suicide, housing, jobs and education.

To report abuse or a suicide attempt, or for more information on the Nia Project, please call (404) 616-2897.

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