Recent tragedy prompts discussion

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Granted, intervention isn’t an approach to be lightly entertained when measured against an individual’s rights. But the tragic death of a homeless man in October in the Annapolis Valley has people talking about when it’s right to step in when someone is suffering from mental illness and is making choices putting the safety of himself and others at risk.

Harley Lawrence died in Berwick Oct. 23 under circumstances deemed suspicious. He’d been in the small town for some time and, although some residents had taken steps to befriend him, he always indicated he preferred to be on his own, rather than under someone’s roof.

As the man’s brother, Ronald Lawrence, has said about the discussion since about ways to help those in such circumstances, there is no simple solution. Attempts to help his brother, he said, might have pushed him down the road, but Lawrence added that anything is worth a try.

The laws governing such help, as laid out in the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act, have their limits. Health Minister Leo Glavine has said Nova Scotians can expect an overhaul of the act, as a panel has drafted recommendations regarding involuntary treatment.

Part and parcel to that discussion has come calls for better outreach capabilities – including in smaller towns – to check on people in such vulnerable circumstances and provide shelter and other needs.

We’ve seen some steps toward that, in some cases where local organizations have taken up the task of opening shelters, along with the need to find funding and volunteers to make it all possible.

We get to this time of year, along with the frigid weather setting in, and the need becomes that much more urgent.

The focus of all this attention, those people who have no roof over their heads, might well respond to help in many different ways, including resistance. But when it’s a question of medication needs, that’s the initial problem that has to be addressed toward a rational solution.

Geographic location: Berwick

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