HUNTINGTON - After a therapy session with Marshall University Counseling Center therapist Nikki Barr, students often tell her they were surprised by how easy it was to talk to her.

"There's a lot of stigma," Barr said Thursday. "A lot of my students will come and see me for a couple months, then start opening up to friends and family. What they find is those friends and family had the same struggles they had, but they just had no idea. This area is really bad about not opening up about it and keeping it inside. It doesn't work."

In honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, recognized throughout September, the Marshall Counseling Center this week is letting students know "We Are ... Here For You" with a full schedule of events.

On Thursday, the center was out on the Memorial Student Center plaza handing out free hygiene kits and other giveaways. The event was so popular it had to wrap up early as the center ran out of items to give away, said Counseling Center director Candace Layne.

"People were really excited when they came through the line and realized it was all free," Barr said. "They were like, 'You did this for us?' They were really appreciative. I think it was a good way for them to see us as human beings and know we are not intimidating. You can easily walk in and you won't feel judged here."

On the lawn, 1,100 blue flags blew in the wind, representing the number of college students estimated to take their lives each year.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students in the United States, with 12% of college freshmen reporting they had suicidal thoughts in their first year, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders. No one knows for sure why this is. College is a challenging time with big life changes. Young adults are living on their own for the first time, dealing with intense stress and being exposed more to alcohol and drugs. It can become isolating.

"We also had a 'Make a Card for a Friend' table," Layne said. "We want to spread the message of checking on others and letting others know they are being thought about."

On Tuesday, the university had a Suicide Memorial Luncheon. Layne said they gave guests the opportunity to share stories of loved ones who had completed suicide and honor them.

Layne said being the loved one of someone who has died by suicide can be isolating.

"It's such a different type of grief," Layne said. "You always think, 'Why?' but the why in that situation is even larger. People tend to judge others toward that, so it's very traumatic for a person to go through. So that's why we want to open the conversation more, so students, and even faculty and staff, know others have gone through something like that. We want to spread the message but also open up conversation."

On Saturday, Sept. 14, the center will host a suicide prevention tailgate at the football game, starting at 4 p.m., and a suicide prevention PSA will play during the game. Layne said everyone on campus has come together to shed light on the subject.

Counseling services are provided free of charge to Marshall students. Appointments can be made by calling 304-696-3111. The clinic also has walk-in hours from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

In the event of an emergency or crisis, a counselor is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be reached by calling 304-696-3111 during regular office hours and 304-696-HELP (4357) outside of office hours.

Visit www.marshall.edu/counseling for more information.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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