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I was a practicing attorney when my brother took his own life in 1993. There was no internet then, so I went to Barnes and Noble and bought every book I could find with the word "suicide" in the title. In the back of those books there was always a list of suicide prevention organizations, and I cold-called the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (the world's largest nonprofit dedicated to the issue) and offered to volunteer. They invited me to join their national board of directors and then recruited me to their senior management team to create a new department devoted to those who, like me, had lost someone they loved to suicide.

Joanne L. Harpel
J & S at photo shoot - smiling.jpg

Armed with little more than a dated brochure and a Senate Resolution designating the Saturday before Thanksgiving as National Survivor Day, I created International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, an annual event that takes place in over 400 cities around the world. I also developed the most comprehensive and far-reaching array of programs and resources in the field, including a toolkit utilized by schools across the country facing real-time crises, a primer explaining suicide to children, and national support group facilitator training and outreach programs that have impacted tens of thousands of people. 

With my brother Stephen, 1972

After many years as AFSP's first-ever Senior Director for Public Affairs and Postvention, I realized I needed a deeper, more personal connection to the issue and the people I wanted to help. I wanted to create the kind of support that I wish had been available when I felt most lost and alone. So I created Coping After Suicide,   offering guidance and support to individuals and families, as well as schools and colleges, faith communities, and workplaces across the country.


I conduct professional education on suicide bereavement and postvention for mental health clinicians, health care professionals, clergy, funeral directors, and educators, including the chaplains of the U.S. Army and Veterans Administration, the psychologists affiliated with the South Korean National Police Agency, the crisis response team of a major public university, and the psychiatry and social work departments of an inner city community hospital system.



I've been a featured speaker on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations,  Visa, Inc., the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, the Northern Ireland National Health Service, the New York State Funeral Directors Association, and the New York State School Boards Association. And I've  collaborated with dozens of organizations including the NIMH and WHO, the Columbia University Schools of Social Work and Journalism, the University of Melbourne, HBO, and Sesame Street.

In 2014, I launched Rethink The Conversation,  a nonprofit that develops unique programs that shift perspective on issues like suicide, which have been tinged by stigma, misinformation, lack of attention, or indifference.

J & S at Yale graduation_edited.jpg

At Stephen's graduation from Yale, 1988

Honors & awards
  • International Association for Suicide Prevention
    Farberow Award for Significant Contribution in the Field of Work with Survivors of Suicide Loss (see award presentation here)

  • American Association of Suicidology
    Survivor of the Year Award

  • Web Marketing Association
    WebAward for Outstanding Website (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

  • Amherst College
    Evan Carroll Commager Fellowship

  • Amherst College, BA, cum laude

  • Cambridge University, MPhil

  • NYU School of Law, JD

  • London School of Economics

  • Association for Death Education and Counseling
    Certified in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement)

  • IFS Institute Online Circle

Professional associations
  • American Association of Suicidology. Professional Career Suicidologist. Member, Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force, Clinician-Survivor Task Force, Loss Division, and Workplace Committee. 

  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Former Senior Director for Public Affairs and Postvention. Former member, national board of directors and business advisory council.

  • International Association for Suicide Prevention. Suicide Bereavement and Postvention Special Interest Group.

  • National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (SAMHSA).  Founding co-lead, National Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force. Contributor, “Responding to Grief, Trauma, & Distress After a Suicide."

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Co-chair, Lived Experience Committee.

  • Rethink The Conversation. President, CEO, and Founder

  • Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Founding Member, Lived Experience Advisory Committee. 

  • Advisor: Anonymous Alerts, Grief Coach, Grief Anonymous, and Grief Resource Network.

  • Consultant: Hope for Depression Research Foundation, New York State Funeral Directors Association, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and United HealthCare.

  • Professional Member: Association for Death Education and Counseling, Hospice Foundation of America, and National Alliance for Children's Grief.

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