Halifax’s IWK Health Centre opened a state-of-the-art facility on Friday to treat children and teenagers suffering from acute mental illness.

The $10 million Garron Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health will serve critically ill young people from Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick.

Dr. Kathleen Pajer, chief of the IWK's department of psychiatry, said it is a healing environment.

“One of the best ways to imagine it is if you were very frightened, very frail, very worried, very angry, and coming into a ward where you were removed from your family, and the ward was dark, the ward had peeling paint and had things written on the walls,” she said.

“Even if the staff were welcoming and trying to help you, it would elicit a fight-or-flight reaction.” 

The Garron Centre was made possible by a $10 million donation to the IWK Health Centre from Myron and Berna Garron, along with donations from Marjorie Lindsay, RBC and the Windsor Foundation.

The new unit, flooded with light and fresh air, increases the speed of recovery, she said. It puts the IWK on the leading edge of treating young people, said Pajer. 

Olivia Burke, 18, attended the opening. She’s a former patient.

“I was experiencing psychosis. I heard voices in my head and thought they were real people,” she said. “The nurses and doctors were there for me and I appreciated that."

The unit can accommodate 16 people. It replaces 4 South, which was considered dingy and shabby. It does not increase the hospital's capacity to treat children.