Children of Suicide: In Her Wake

Thursday, October 9, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. Eastern | 11:00 a.m. Pacific

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Presentation Description  


Every sixteen minutes someone dies by suicide and in the aftermath a family is left trying to find a way to make sense of this devastating loss . Although reliable statistics are difficult to come by, a conservative estimate reveals that at least 10,000 to 20,000 children and adolescents in the United States are bereaved by suicide each year.

Although bereaved children experience a painful period of acute grief after a parent dies by suicide, most are not derailed in their development. However, a clinically significant number may develop psychiatric disorders, alcohol abuse, and suicidality. There is a window of opportunity after a parent’s death to fortify family cohesion and to mitigate confusion, self-blame and guilt for the death. By mobilizing support and helping families tap into available community support services, these vulnerable youth can stabilize.

Dr. Rappaport will examine the effects of bereavement on children, drawing on research and on her personal experiences as a clinician and as a daughter who lost her mother to suicide at four years old. This webinar will integrate her personal experience working through the loss of her mother with an overview of research and guidelines that are relevant for both caregivers/clinicians who help bereaved children heal and for those who have lost a loved one to suicide and are wondering about the impact on children. Dr. Rappaport will provide insight into the emotions and experiences that children, teens and families affected by a suicide death often go through and will offer ways to provide support. She will discuss developmentally appropriate ways to respond to common questions, address how to prepare kids to return to school, and review research that addresses survivors’ questions about genetic risks.




About the Presenter:


Dr. Nancy Rappaport is a graduate of Princeton University and Tufts University School of Medicine. A board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, Rappaport is associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School where she teaches undergraduates, medical students, and residents about child development and supervises child psychiatry fellows in local schools. Her research, teaching, and clinical expertise focus on the collaboration between education and psychiatry. In 2013, she received Cambridge Health Alliance’s Art of Healing award, which celebrates visionary men and women who transcend boundaries, joyfully embrace humanity, and profoundly inspire the healing of body and spirit.

After graduating from Princeton, Rappaport worked as a science teacher at an innovative elementary school in Harlem, New York. In this economically disadvantaged neighborhood, Rappaport advocated for support for struggling families. Rappaport’s life-altering experiences in Harlem inspired her to enter medical school and would help launch a robust career.

Graduating from Tufts School of Medicine in 1988, Rappaport completed an internship in pediatrics and a residency in adult psychiatry, both at Massachusetts General Hospital, before completing a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital. It was during this fellowship that Rappaport forged a longstanding relationship with the Teen Health Center at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS), where she is still employed today.

Rappaport has worked with the Cambridge public schools as an attending child and adolescent psychiatrist for more than 18 years. She has designed numerous courses for teachers on psychopharmacology, adolescent development, and instructional strategies for disruptive students. She has worked at the national level with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She received the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's Sidney Berman Award for the School-Based Study and Treatment of Learning Disorders and Mental Illness in 2012.

Rappaport also authored the memoir In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide (Basic Books, September 2009), winner of the Boston Authors Club's 2010 Julia Ward Howe Prize. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly called the book “Fearless … a stunning narrative of perspective, profound sadness and unrelenting hope.” She has traveled extensively to consult and present about children who are adapting to the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Her most recent book is The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students (Harvard Education Press, April 2012), written with behavioral analyst Jessica Minahan.




1. Explain the effect of suicide on children and families, central themes of bereavement after suicide, and the impact of a family’s vulnerabilities and strengths



2. Recognize ways to effectively work with child and adolescent survivors of suicide loss 



3. Discuss the perspective of a clinician survivor and the construction of a healing narrative



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