Social Work Boss Denies Centre Closure To Blame For Suicide

A help centre for mental health sufferers which was suddenly closed by social work bosses is to re-open after one of its users committed suicide. Susan Wilson, 38, was buried on Monday, the same day as her friends at the Springboard complex in Hawick were told the service was being re-started.

Staffing problems were blamed by Scottish Borders Council for the shock closure of the Cross Wynd project. The centre was regarded as vital by the 40 people who made use of it – but they were told in a blunt letter on Friday, May 5, it was closing immediately. Many were in tears over that weekend.

Protests led Scottish Borders Council to confirm the closure was temporary because of staffing problems.

On June 8, the acting head of social care and health at SBC, Frank McKie, met with users. He said: “I was impressed by the strong support for Springboard and the value placed on it by service users.”

On June 15, Susan Wilson took her own life.

Friends of Susan, who stayed in Hawick’s Ramsay Road, believe the closure probably contributed to her suicide – a claim that has been denied by a senior social work official.

Gordon and his partner Mattie both use Springboard. He suffers from depression and has used Springboard since December 2004.

He said: “We are obviously delighted that Springboard is re-opening but that delight is tinged with sadness by the loss of one of our members. She was a good friend, a regular user of the centre, and will be greatly missed.

“It is impossible to really say if the closure was directly involved in her death. “But I warned the council, I told Mr McKie, that every day it was closed the potential was that people’s lives were in danger. And sadly my words have come true.”

Thomas Cairns, 57, who has suffered from schizophrenia for three decades, told us: “I did not think she would have taken her own life. But she liked the centre and when it closed she didn’t get one-to-one counselling and that probably had a bearing on what happened.”

Asked if he believed the closure had contributed to the suicide, Mr McKie told us: “Taking ones life is always tragic and this was no exception. But she did have other support services outside Springboard – professional and medical services better geared than those available at Springboard. There will be an enquiry as there always is in such circumstances and that enquiry will take account of those services. Services were offered and were active in the period leading up to her decision to take her own life. These included counselling.

“I cannot see that there is a connection between the closure and her death.”

But Martin went on: “When you suffer from mental health problems there is a tendency to withdraw – Springboard gave us a reason not to withdraw. Everybody is there for a different reason and these reasons are important. From my own point of view, I suffer from depression and Springboard is a reason to get out of the house. It supplies an important network of support.”

“We were very angry when it suddenly closed and now the family and the partner of our friend who died are feeling red raw. It is terrible for them. But I believe her death drove it home to the council and focused their attention on the need for Springboard.”

Social work bosses have arranged for a special emergency hotline to be used by Springboard clients if they feel the need for extra help.

Users of the centre have been given a number for the Scottish Association for Mental Health’s crisis line.

They were told: “The SAMH does not normally accept self-referrals but we have negotiated a short-term arrangement.”

Social work bosses have drafted in two managers and a support worker from other centres on a temporary measure to operate the centre three days a week for six months. Users will be given the full details at a meeting on Monday afternoon. Bur Mr McKie says that while the new staffing arrangement is temporary, the opening is permanent.

He said they were committed to including users in the everyday running of the service and in the future planning to ensure the service meets their needs.