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Suicide prevention is a family affair for Seabeck woman

Bev Cobain, a Seabeck area resident, became a nationally acclaimed speaker on depression and suicide prevention shortly after the 1994 suicide of her cousin, Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain. She is now planning to move to Costa Rica, but promises to continue to be active in battling depression. - Rogerick Anas
Bev Cobain, a Seabeck area resident, became a nationally acclaimed speaker on depression and suicide prevention shortly after the 1994 suicide of her cousin, Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain. She is now planning to move to Costa Rica, but promises to continue to be active in battling depression.
— image credit: Rogerick Anas

Bev Cobain knew her cousin, rock idol Kurt Cobain, was in real trouble when she saw him perform wearing a shirt that said, “I hate myself and I want to die.”

The Cobains have a family history of suicide — two of Bev’s uncles killed themselves — and Kurt previously had suffered from depression.

Bev tried to intervene by calling her grandfather, with whom Kurt was close, and sending telegrams to the Nirvana frontman. She doesn’t think any of the letters reached him before his death in April 1994.

Kurt’s suicide propelled Cobain, a psychiatric nurse, into notoriety. A chamber of commerce in New Jersey asked her to give a presentation, and Baptist Hospital brought her to Pensacola, Fla., to speak.

Those engagements launched Cobain into seven years of touring and speaking, and she published a 1998 book titled “When Nothing Matters Anymore” about teen depression.

Her own life and struggle with depression also have been driving forces behind her desire to reach out to teens, Cobain said.

“I never realized until later that a lot of why I did this was because of my painful experience as a teenager,” she said.

Cobain has been active in Kitsap County as well, giving presentations at Bremerton Junior High School, Central Kitsap High School, South Kitsap High School and Olympic College.

However, the community is about to lose her.

Cobain, who has lived in Kitsap County for 29 years, is preparing to move to Costa Rica next month and already has sold her Seabeck home.

“I can’t stand the dismal, dreary winters here and I have always been drawn to the tropics,” Cobain said.

She said she is challenging herself to learn Spanish and looking forward to the adventure.

Straight talk

The Portland-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Northwest, recently gave Cobain an award for promoting teen suicide prevention.

She attributes her success in working with youth to her straight-talk approach.

“When you talk to kids you have to be really honest, and you can’t be telling them what to do,” Cobain said.

Teens are one another’s best chance for survival because communication barriers often keep kids from telling adults about depression, Cobain said. And even if they are suicidal, teens rarely will call a crisis hotline.

“They might tell their best friend that they are feeling depressed, that they hate their stepfather or that they don’t ever want to go home again,” Cobain said, “but they will not tell their parents or any adult. Maybe 1, 2 or 3 percent will.”

She challenges kids to tell some one, and to imagine how they would feel if a depressed friend committed suicide.

Reporting

challenges

Suicide is the nation’s second-leading cause of death among young people, Cobain said, but reporting of such deaths is problematic.

Fear of copycat suicide, a desire to protect the family or insurance concerns might cause a death to be inaccurately reported. In addition, there are ambiguous cases in which whether a person intended to commit suicide is not clear — in a single occupancy car accident, drowning or fall from a window, for instance.

“So if we’re not reporting it accurately, and some of those things that looked like accidents were really suicides, suicide could be the leading cause of death in your age group,” Cobain said.

For a while after Kurt’s death, Cobain said many schools declined to invite her to speak because they feared her talk would encourage suicide.

“Once you get through the stigma and the shame, there are people who are afraid that if you talk about it with a kids that your going to give them the idea of doing it,” Cobain said.

She recommends that concerned adults make friendly contact with teens to remind them that their community cares.

“I challenge adults to make contact so the kid looks up and knows they’re not invisible, that people actually see them and care enough to say something to them,” she said.

Cobain is working on a second book about how teens communicate with adults, and she intends to continue traveling to make public speeches after she moves to Costa Rica.

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