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The impetus behind the establishment of Rethink The Conversation was the 1993 suicide of my younger brother, Stephen. In the many years since, I’ve stopped enough cocktail party conversations cold to know how deep that stigma still runs.










We’ve never hidden how he died (although in retrospect I wish we’d been courageous enough to use the word “suicide” in the obituary rather than the euphemism “died suddenly”). Yet even 25 years later, I find myself including his academic pedigree when I talk about him, as I did just now. Mostly, of course, it’s because I’m immensely proud of him and want to brag a little. But if I’m honest, there’s still a little tiny corner of me that is saying: “He was a regular guy. ‘Normal.’ Please don’t judge him. And by extension, please don’t judge me.”  

Mental illness and suicide, like too many other important issues, remain shrouded in stigma. Poorly understood. Taboo. Whispered about. Ignored.


It doesn’t have to be that way. We can begin to talk without fear about topics that have been hush-hush. We can explore serious issues that too often remain disconnected from mainstream social discourse. We can listen to thought-leaders and draw on solid, evidence-based information. And we can do it in an engaging, creative, even entertaining way.  


We can Rethink The Conversation.



Joanne L. Harpel,

Founder, President & CEO

with her brother Stephen

If you’d been lucky enough to have known my brother, you would have known a funny, self-effacing guy who loved shrimp, tennis, English History, and Thanksgiving. He had absolutely dreadful handwriting, yet was an honors graduate of Yale and then of Harvard Law School. He married his college sweetheart and was so popular he had 11 groomsmen at his wedding. 

Stephen took his own life at the age of 26, less than a year after suddenly developing bipolar disorder.

Joanne L. Harpel, MPhil, JD

President & CEO

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