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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Help available for distressed students

Jamie Marks stood in front of her Rhetoric and Academic Research class Monday morning as one of her students picked up a newspaper.

“What do you think about this guy?” the student asked, pointing to a front-page story.

A man died Sunday night, the article read. He fell from the stairs in the northwest corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Who was he? Marks asked.

The student said a name that made Marks shudder: Michael R. Edmonds Jr.

“My legs went to jelly,” Marks said. “I started to shake. My gut soured.”

At about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Edmonds sent Marks a text: “I need your help sometime soon.” The two met online a couple years ago and in person over beers at Hogan’s last year. The bond was instant — Edmonds, the journalism major who could talk candidly about his life and struggles as hours drifted away, and Marks, the anthropology graduate student who loved listening and asking questions.

The two exchanged more texts Sunday. Marks was driving back from Cedar Key, and she asked if they could meet for a long discussion later this week. She said she would call when she got home, probably around 4 p.m., she guessed.

The trip back to Gainesville took longer than Marks expected, and she didn’t arrive until around 9 p.m. — about two hours after Edmonds died. She didn’t hear about it for 12 more hours. She said she should have called during the drive home.

“I wish we just could have had that connection, even just to bring a little peace to him, even if it wouldn’t have changed his decision,” she said. “I feel like I failed him as a friend.”

In one of those texts to Marks on Sunday, Edmonds said he was struggling to justify living. But he had told her that before, she said. He seemed less panicked on Sunday than he did in the past.

Marks said she doesn’t blame herself, that she understands she couldn’t have stopped him. But the question of “what if” still haunts her, which is common for those close to someone who committed suicide, said Sherry Benton, director of the UF Counseling & Wellness Center.

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“This is one of the hardest things you can possibly go through,” she said. “It’s just awful. If you’re someone who loved Michael, it’s easy to think, ‘I should have done more. I should have done more. I should have done more.’ I want those people to know it’s not their fault.”

Benton said students contemplating suicide should call the Counseling & Wellness Center at 352-392-1575. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and a counselor is on call for those who need it, any time of day.

The center offers about 20 different types of therapy groups, Benton said. Counselors also work with UF faculty and staff, training them to identify suicidal students.

But even if someone takes his or her own life, friends and family should not blame themselves, Benton said.

Suicide is complicated. It can’t be traced to one event, one breakup or one moment of anger, according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. About 90 percent of suicide victims have a significant psychiatric illness at the time of their death.

Dustin White, the secretary of Team Florida Cycling, said he met Edmonds when Edmonds joined the club in August. From the beginning of their relationship, Edmonds was unashamed and talked freely about his struggles. White knew Edmonds was frustrated — he suffered a back injury during a bike crash in February, and on Saturday he was arrested for driving under the influence.

Still, White never expected Edmonds would take his own life.

“It seems like it happened all so quick,” he said. “He was open with everyone, so we didn’t see the seriousness in recent conversations … nothing went off like an alarm to anyone.”

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@alligator.org.

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