Help-seeking for suicidality in women who have experienced intimate partner violence: a feminist grounded theory & photovoice study

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University of New Brunswick


Intimate partner violence (IPV) has been found to contribute to suicide thoughts and behaviours in women (Lamis et al., 2017). Seeking help for suicidality with a history of violent trauma is difficult within a society that stigmatizes these experiences. This study sought to discover the process of women’s help-seeking for suicidality in the wake of IPV. Feminist ethical theory, the philosophical underpinning for this multiple method qualitative design of grounded theory (GT) and photovoice (PV), provided a lens in understanding women’s journey. Transcripts from individual interviews with 32 women, seven of whom participated in the PV portion of the study, were analyzed using the constant comparative method of GT. The PV approach aligned with the philosophical underpinning of the study, feminist ethical theory, as the self-generated images and consciousness raising within the meetings helped to broaden the scope of the study. The multiple method qualitative design rendered socio-political constructs of women’s helpseeking. "Hunting to Feel Human" emerged as the basic socio-psychological process that manages the basic socio-psychological problem, "System Entrapment". To "Feel Human" is a sense of personal value and belonging, an aim that is sought in overcoming "System Entrapment", feeling stuck within dehumanization as a result of feeling invalidated within the health care system. "System Entrapment" exists within the context of past "Abuser Entrapment", being stuck within IPV, and "Trauma Entrapment", feeling stuck within suicidality. "Feeling Human" is attained through "Hunting" and several sub-processes, including "Distancing", "Grasping for Help", "Applying Counter-Pressure", "Enduring System Entrapment", "Soaking in Validation", and "Letting Go". The sub-processes are a way of "Taking the Path of Least Disempowerment", a journey that is guided by "Gauging Validation" opportunities. Depending upon the ratio of "System" and "Trauma Entrapment" that is "Gauged", the "Hunt" will retreat or move toward the system. This substantive theory helps to fill in the gaps on understanding chronic suicidality and trauma in women. Implications of this study involve a movement toward a Recovery Model through which services are adapted to clients’ needs. Ultimately, health care providers’ ability to validate suicidality by sharing their mutual humanity is the most powerful contributor to "Feeling Human".