A spring peak and a downfall, following seasonal change suicidal tendencies may rise in April, but support can be found year-round

Mark Oprea

Spring is here: a time for renewal, fresh romance, sun-drenched walks on the Esplanade. It is, for many, a joyful celebration of the demise of the Ohio winter, the end of long, dim days inside. Romantic poets rejoice.

Yet for some, seasonal changes may not mean exulting in short-sleeves as much as the next. According to psychological research in the past couple of years, the gradual shift to warmer temperatures and brighter days may lead to severe drops in mood, deep depression and even, at the worst, suicidal tendencies.

Ever since the early 1800s, scientists have been baffled about this correlation between the weather and our thoughts and emotions. French sociologist Émile Durkheim studied these effects in depth and, in 1897, was the first to declare a “spring peak” in seasonal depression, opposite to the assumed “wintry plummet.” A recent study by the University of West Florida analyzed suicide rates from 1971 to 2000 and determined that more than half of all variations were influenced by seasonal patterns. The average peak month, they found, was April.

Carrie Berta, a psychologist with Kent State’s Psychological Services in University Health Services, said that she noticed an increase in student patients, mostly citing academic distress, in the midpoints of the semester — March and April –– being “highly used times” for psychological assistance. As for why, Berta does not excuse the plausibility of Seasonal Affective Disorder — often nicknamed “the winter blues” — as a culprit, yet not the sole cause.

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“It truly is a disorder where an individual’s mood worsens due to a certain time of year or particular season,” she said. “But it’s just one of many disorders.”

Even research conducted last year propagates a contending debate among psychologists. Many psychologists cite shifting levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain having to do with happiness and well-being, due to sudden increases in sunlight as a possible instigator. Others adhere to geographical influences, such as those in France and Belgium, where scientists blame sunlight alone on depression-like behavior, or in Montana, which has its own Suicide Review Team. The list of sources extends on and on, from lingering mood disorders, air pollutants, even allergens like tree pollen. Other studies debunk the claim altogether.

Still, no matter the verified cause, the current statistics on suicide in the U.S. show the gravity of the situation in an alarming light. From the 41,149 persons who died by suicide in 2013, according to the CDC, almost 5,000 of these were college-aged persons, making for 13 cases per day. That’s one for every two hours.

Universities like Kent State are responding accordingly, promoting awareness to warning signs of suicide and through campaigns like “Step Up and Speak Out,” which, to Berta, a member of the campaign, allows persons-in-need to “feel comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation.” Organizations like the nationally-covered To Write Love on Her Arms, along with a student-led “Out of the Darkness” campus walk this Saturday, aspire with similar mission statements and creeds: Suicide must be talked about rather than ignored.

It is the same belief that Kaci Mikusevich, a junior communication studies major, had when she was preparing for Kent State’s annual Greek Songfest last November. Every Songfest, as per usual philanthropic means, pairs a certain cause alongside bands of singing Greek organizations and on-stage skits. After a council speculation led by Kaci surveying the Greek community, the decision to what they would sponsor, she said, ended up being almost “unanimous.” Songfest 2014 was dedicated to a cause dear to her, one to which she has now committed a career.

Founded in 1990, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), the organization Kaci opted to support, is one among many national campaigns geared toward, as it states on its website, “preventing suicide through public awareness” and “removing its stigma.” Its direct, nothing-held-back approach to dialogue attracted Kaci, and she knew instantly she wanted SAVE at Kent State. The only thing stopping her was the cost — roughly $10,000 that was not in the Greek budget.

The then-vice president of the Panhellenic Council sent SAVE an email in the summer of 2014 detailing her story and desire, expecting a no-go due to lacking funds.

The email made its way to SAVE Executive Director Dan Reidenberg. Reidenberg responded with overwhelming sympathy: He would talk on SAVE’s behalf for free.

“There were a couple things that convinced me,” Reidenberg said. “One, there were incidents recently on campus and people were talking about suicide at the school. And two, was Kaci and her passion.”

Reidenberg himself remembers the day, Nov. 15, 2014, when the Kent State Student Center Ballroom filled with hundreds of students to support SAVE on Kaci’s efforts. He sat on the judging panel along with Berta and Kaci’s mother, Deb McKee, who had lost her husband to suicide.



Two sisters from Phi Mu began the ceremony by holding up a banner on stage that read, “In Memory of Robin Williams 1951-2014.” Students came up to Reidenberg afterwards, expressing their gratitude, telling him how they had been saved.

But it was Reidenberg’s speech the day before the event that wowed emcee Kaci with a power that made it unforgettable. She recalled listening to it that day, as we sat together on the second floor of the Student Center, looking out to a sun-enlivened plaza populated with students and the shadows of clouds.

She paraphrases Reidenberg, recalling his message: “There’s a point where you only need one person to recognize you,” Kaci said, “to make you feel important, to get you out of that dark place.”

It’s unmistakable that she is referencing her own story, her own past. Her tone, as Kaci speaks, could make one feel as if she’s addressing a crowded auditorium. She puts emphasis on every mention of “real” when she defines the effect of self-harm.

Kaci attempted suicide when she was a sophomore.

She crosses her legs, leans forward and talks.

It was the spring of 2013, Kaci’s second year at Kent State, and she had just spent the past year a part of Chi Omega. Seasons changed, relationships dissolved. She soon found herself one day sitting in her bedroom with her mind focused on the previously unthinkable. She was trembling. Her cell phone buzzed on the table.

She sat contemplating. Do I answer this right now? Do I not?

She picked it up.

It was her friend, Veronica. “Hey, how are you doing?” she asked.

Kaci started crying. Veronica asked what was wrong.

“I’m not OK,” Kaci told her.

Veronica stayed on the phone with Kaci as she rushed over in her car to Kaci’s place in Summit Hill Apartments. Kaci had waited until Veronica arrived to tell her where she was at mentally, what she was thinking about — fearing a 911 call. The next day, Kaci went to see a doctor. She soon found out that her past speculation was true: The doctor said she was “100 percent” bipolar.

Although Kaci has dealt with a fair share of doubt and ignorance along the way, she has gained much appreciation for those who listen to her story.

This summer she is interning for SAVE in Minneapolis. Reidenberg said he’s “really fortunate” to have her on board, citing her drive and her want to help others.

At one point during the interview, Kaci’s phone buzzed in front of her.

“Do you mind if I look at this?” she asks in a light-hearted tone.

It’s her roommate asking for a favor.

“That’s one thing I think that it did to me,” she said afterward, smiling. “Is that when I get that text, I’m instantly like, ‘Oh, are you OK? What’s going on?’ But it’s usually just something stupid.”

It’s now part of Kaci’s philosophy on trust and friendship: “Leaning on people is what tends to save people.”

As far as any seasonal influence goes, concerning depression, Reidenberg himself denies such a spring peak, asserting that there should be no specific month to focus on suicide awareness and prevention and that any correlation is small. Instead, he, along with Kaci, said that attention to the unthinkable should be a year-round call for awareness.

“And it doesn’t take much to get someone out of that mode of thought,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a smile. It could even be something as simple as a phone call.”

Students can contact Kent State Psychological Services for all concerns or more information at 330-672-2487. For concerns outside normal business hours, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. For all emergencies, call 911.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].


• Talking about or showing an unusual interest in death

• Looking for tools, ways suggesting self-harm

• Talking about hopelessness or lack of purpose in life

• Talking about a trapping feeling or unbearable pain

• Talking about being a burden to others or feeling unnecessary

• Increased alcohol and drug use

• Increased anxiety, agitated or reckless behavior, signs of rage

• Extreme, out-of-the-norm mood swings .


• Do not leave the person by themselves; attend to them immediately.

• Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.