On May 13, 1996, in Memphis,
Tennessee, Dr. Tullis, along with fifteen other survivors of suicide attempts,
founded Suicide Anonymous, a self-help program for mutual support based on the
model of Alcoholics Anonymous. The purpose of the program is to provide a safe
environment for people to share their struggles with suicide, to prevent suicides,
and to develop strategies for support and healing from the devastating effects
of suicidal preoccupation and behavior.
The need for such a program arises from an awareness that suicidal people in the United States do not have safe places to talk honestly about their own struggles with suicide. The stigma of suicide is enormous, both for surviving family members and for surviving attempters. This stigma pervades every segment of our society, including religious organizations and the mental health field.
The church usually is not perceived as a safe place by people who struggle with suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and/or attempts. The legacy that suicide is an unforgivable sin is still learned by our children, whether or not the church actively teaches such a doctrine, making it unlikely that teens or adults struggling with the possibility of their own suicide will feel free to turn to the church to share their struggle.
Partially by default, the mental health field inherited the problem of suicide as the concept of suicide evolved from a "sin" into a "product of mental illness" over the last century in the United States. Yet, the mental health field is not always perceived as a safe place by people who struggle with suicide. Mental health professionals are bound by law to intervene with suicidal patients, usually forcing appropriate psychiatric hospitalization. With such a threat of hospitalization or with hospitalization itself, suicidal patients "clam up" about their struggles with suicide, producing an unsafe environment for sharing the full truth about their struggle.
Suicide Anonymous, therefore,
came forward to offer a safe place for suicidal people to share their stories
of struggle with suicide and to develop strategies for mutual support and healing.
The following tools have
1.) Discussion meetings - during one hour meetings topics are presented by a chairperson and members share their experience or simply listen. Cross talking, that is responding to a member's comments, is discouraged to allow free discussion without criticism. The last fifteen minutes is reserved for members to get current about how they are dealing with suicide. Experience has shown that talking openly about suicide with people who understand the problem lessens the shame and stigma, combats isolation, and teaches the suicidal person that it is safe to reach out for support in a crisis.
2.) Phone lists - exchanging phone numbers among group members provides a valuable resource for crises between meetings, especially late at night. At first reluctant to bother others, most members learn to reach out to fellow members for support in a suicidal crisis. Members receiving calls feel useful and experience the other end of a suicidal crisis.
3.) Sponsorship - new members pick older members to be sponsors to guide them through the Twelve Steps. Both people benefit enormously from the experience and learn that they are not alone in their struggle with suicide.
4.) Speaker meetings - at regular intervals a member shares his or her life story and experience with suicide at a meeting open to members and the public. In sharing his or her story, the teller overcomes the shame and stigma of a life of struggle with suicide while the listener identifies with the story and breaks through denial of the full extent of his or her own struggle.
5.) Bottom lines - members select bottom line behaviors for themselves. Bottom line behaviors are their component behaviors of suicide, including such things as hoarding pills for overdose, suicidal fantasies, or compulsively driving through cemeteries. Members commit to stop bottom line behaviors one day at a time, pick up a white poker chip at a meeting to symbolize the commitment, and receive colored chips to mark periods of abstinence from the behaviors.