Catching Up With … Nadine J. Kaslow
The founder and director of Nia Project at Grady Hospital in Atlanta discusses the behavioral health program for Black women who have experienced interpersonal violence and thought about suicide.
Nia Project is a behavioral health program primarily for Black women who have experienced interpersonal violence and are thinking about suicide. It’s based at Grady Hospital in Atlanta. These are edited highlights of an interview.
Q: Tell us about Nia Project.
A: The program started in the early ’90s. I had a research grant from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and was doing research [on women and suicide]. Some women who had been in the study knocked on my office door at Grady and said, “You asked us all these questions, but are you going to provide us help?”
Now, in 2022, we offer over 20 groups a week. Some are support groups. People talk about what they’re struggling with and get support. Some are skills-based groups. You learn specific skills or techniques to cope. We have an open support group where people talk about some of the challenges in the world or about interpersonal challenges and how to deal with those. We have groups to help people deal with their history of childhood trauma.
We have a group that helps people transition to the community. Some people want to start their own businesses; we’re going to invite people who have started businesses to come and talk with them.
We offer group activities like Thanksgiving [meals]. We have somebody we call Santa Nia who donates a party for the women and somebody else who donates holiday gifts for everybody. We have an African-American History Month event called “The Joy of Being Black.”
We also have a 24-hour crisis line. We have [a suicide prevention] app. Some of the people in the Nia Project are on the app development committee.
Q: What makes Nia Project unique?
A: There is no other program like this. The size of it is very comprehensive. It’s all free of charge.
The focus [is] on culturally responsive care. Most mental health services don’t include holiday gifts [or] parties and pay for people’s food during a pandemic. The sense that it’s a family.
When the pandemic started, we started meeting once a month with the members of Nia on Zoom to find out what they needed from us. People were like, “Well, I’m getting fewer food stamps. I don’t have enough food.” That’s when we started getting grants to help pay for food. We try to respond, rather than being top down and [having] the leaders decide what the program is. We try to not only [ensure] members have a voice, but the voice really matters.
Q: Why the focus on suicide among Black women?
A: There’s lots of evidence that individuals who are Black have less access to quality care. I’m committed to providing people from marginalized communities and historically oppressed communities with the best quality care possible. Working at Grady, being an Emory faculty member, is a big part of that commitment. It’s a very social-justice-focused commitment.
Q: Do you treat people other than Black women in the program?
A: The research is just for Black women. We have women from other racial and ethnic backgrounds in the program. We also have people who are male or identify as “they” in the program as well.
Q: What does the future look like for Nia Project?
A: We want to train providers to provide psychological services that are trauma-informed, but also culturally responsive. We’re very invested in the care we provide being culturally responsive and empowering – empowering the women to have a voice. We want to work more on using our findings to guide policy changes and actions. We hope to continue to disseminate the program into other settings and environments so that more people can benefit from what we offer.
Suicide is a serious problem. And intimate [or] family violence, domestic violence and other abuses are serious problems in our community. It’s important that we do everything we can to prevent them. And then when they do occur, to help people who are struggling.