In a compact conference room in Westmont, four men and three women talk about not killing themselves.

They are members of Suicide Anonymous, a '12-Step' group for people seeking recovery from an addiction to self-destruction.

"I long for death," a gray-bearded man says quietly, as several people nod around the table.

This weekly gathering at the Starting Point counseling center, and another at Hampton Behavioral Health Center in Westampton, are among only five regularly scheduled SA meetings in the United States.

The others are in Tennessee, where the self-help group was founded in 1996 by a psychiatrist who repeatedly tried to take his own life. Every year about 35,000 Americans commit suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I believe that underneath suicide is rage," says Janet, who along with her partner, Phil, founded the South Jersey meetings in August 2010. "It's murder . . . of the self."

I meet Janet, 54, and Phil, 47, at the Burlington County home they share with a mutt named Banana. The place is packed with artwork, books and inspirational doodads - such as the uplifting aphorisms on the bathroom mirror.

Phil, a bookkeeper, and Janet, an artist and mime, both have been treated for depression and other behavioral health issues. Both have found their calling in suicide-prevention work.

At one time, "I wanted to rid the world of me," says Phil, who swallowed pills and slit his wrist three years ago. The scar is still visible, a pale filament across the skin.

"I would never have attempted it if I'd had SA," he adds.

Modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, the originator of the '12-Step' approach, SA is not a crisis center or a professional counseling service. Rather, it encourages personal responsibility, mutual support, prayer, and belief in God or another "higher power" of one's own conception.

Members share personal failings and feelings, including those about suicide. "We have no secrets!" Janet observes, and indeed, the talk around the Westmont table is painfully frank.

The SA members, who range in age from their 20s to 50s, speak passionately about their emotional problems - most are or have been consumers of mental-health services - and their physical ailments, too.

They're smart, articulate, and caring, but they're also angry, and deeply sad. It's a relief, they say, to talk to other people without having to explain themselves.

Other people in SA know all about what the rest of us hope we'll never know: A desire to delete oneself.

From Memphis, SA founder Kenneth Tullis, 68, tells me his own recovery came after seven attempted suicides, years of therapy, and "a lot of 12-Step work."

A specialist in addiction medicine, he's convinced that thinking about self-destruction can be addictive for some people.

When they contemplate suicide, their mood changes. Much like an alcoholic gets hooked on booze, or a compulsive gambler gets hooked by the action, a person who's suicidal gets hooked on the "relief" contemplating suicide brings.

"If the '12 Steps' work for everything else," Tullis says, "why not for preventing suicide?"

A core group of about 25 people attend the three Memphis meetings, but elsewhere, growing the organization has proven difficult. Meetings were established in New York City, Los Angeles, and Great Britain, but subsequently petered out.

Even in an era of total self-disclosure on social media and elsewhere, "people don't want to talk about suicide," Janet notes.

Eric, 52, who lives in a Burlington County nursing home, participates in the meetings by phone. Suicidal for much of his life, he attempted numerous times but has been in recovery for five years.

SA "helps keep me going," he tells me.

Eric has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and can no longer work. His condition is terminal.

But "even on my deathbed," he says, "I want to live."

Contact Kevin Riordan

at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.philly.com/blinq.

For more information about Suicide Anonymous, call 901-654-7673 or visit www.suicideanonymous.net.