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Suicide Anonymous in Westhampton, NJ

In this world of 12 Step recovery from every addiction imaginable, I never dreamed of hearing the word ‘suicide’ before the word ‘anonymous’. After three years of suicidal thoughts relentlessly plaguing my mind, endless therapy, hospitalizations, medications and shock treatments I looked nationwide for a group in which to safely discuss it. I finally found Suicide Anonymous in Tennessee. In desperation I actually considered moving there, but was too depressed to pack a box.

So I started my own meeting in Burlington County, NJ with my husband, who had made an attempt. On August 27th, 2010, we held our first SA meeting at Hampton Behavioral Center in Westampton, NJ. It started with 4 brave people whom I consider pioneers. I have been to many 12 Step groups, but I have never experienced such a depth of sharing and human emotion as I have in this group.

Suicide Anonymous was founded by a psychiatrist in Tennessee, who had attempted to take his life seven times. He realized that there is an addictive quality to suicide… that the process follows the patterns that other addicts usually identify and that it often becomes easier to do with each attempt. He finally experienced a connection to his Higher Power (a 12 Step term for God) and decided to apply the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to this complicated and painful issue. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop acting out of suicidal ideation and behavior.

Suicide has become a leading cause of death and the rates are increasing yearly. Every 14.2 minutes someone dies by suicide. It is particularly increasing amongst adults due to the economy and teens due to bullying. Even children under 10 years are succeeding at it or at least seriously considering it.

Ken T., the founder of SA, noticed that certain psychiatric patients of his continued to be suicidal “after working through aggressive tendencies, years of treatment and recovery from addictions, therapy for childhood sexual abuse and stabilization of mood disorders”. In time he suspected that something else was going on…”that they were ‘hooked’ on suicidal fantasies and behaviors”.

As a result of a 13 year study with 50 of Ken’s psychiatric patients (with a very varied history of disorders and addictions) he observed the same stages that are found in other common addictions.

All 50 patients reported:

1) Onset of suicidal preoccupation in childhood (6-14 years old)

2) Mood alteration: a calming sensation, a “rush” or “high” similar to the effects of drugs or alcohol…the danger and risk cause high levels of arousal

3) Secrecy

4) Fantasies: i.e. imaging one’s own death and funeral

5) Tolerance: after a time the suicidal thoughts were not enough to produce a “fix” or numb pain

6) Suicidal preoccupation: when thoughts grow into morbid curiosity with “death and the dark side” and lead to elaborate research of the topic, which becomes seductive.

7) Rituals: thoughts give way to compulsive behaviors, including secretly collecting and hoarding paraphernalia for suicide

8) Multiple suicide attempts: most people in the study had at least 3 attempts, describing a very powerful, but secret alteration in mood just before the attempt, often ranking the feeling above drugs and sex…many conceding that they were not in the midst of depression when they made the attempt.

9) Trance: most patients described a trance-like state leading up to and during each suicide attempt, including a sense of “tunnel vision”, altered sense of time and space, and being on “automatic pilot”.

10)Despair/Withdrawal: most patients described a break in their trance after the attempt, describing it like a “crash”, with a painful return to reality. Their powerlessness and hopelessness was reinforced by the shame of facing caregivers.

People who attend the Suicide Anonymous meetings are acknowledging these stages. And there are also studies being done at Johns Hopkins University linking genetic causes to suicide.

At the meetings we use The Little Book (instead of AA’s Big Book), created by the members in Tennessee. Because of the anonymity clause of the 12 Step structure, members of the group need not fear any forced intervention. Members find SA a safe haven where they can say what they think and feel and be supported by others who have had similar thoughts and feelings.

Now there is an additional meeting at Starting Point in Westmont, Camden County, Tuesday at 7pm. The Friday meeting at Hampton Behavioral Health in Westamption is at 7pm also. Both meetings are open, which means anyone (friends and relatives) can attend. Roads To Recovery is a transportation company that will bring anyone living in Burlington County to the Hampton meeting. They can be reached at (856) 469-1293. One can also skype or call into the meeting. For general information call (901) 654-7673 or visit the website: http://suicideanonymous.net/. Local contacts are Janet at (856) 266-0709 and Phil at (856) 220-0032. Arrangements can be made for rides by members living close to you.

Suicide Anonymous is keeping people out of hospitals. Please pass this information on to others.

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Lynn Andrews
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Ellie Pechet
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