Heather Oland has experienced the mental health care system first hand.


“I was myself diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the age of 15,” says Oland. “So I transitioned from the IWK to adult care when I was 19.”


Now 21-years-old, Oland says she had a close relationship with her child psychiatrist and the thought of moving to adult care was daunting.


“Then all of a sudden I have to go to this new doctor who doesn’t know my family dynamic or doesn’t know exactly what I have dealt with in the past and I have to build this new relationship,” she says.


Despite her fears, Oland says her transition was a very positive experience -- an experience she is now using to help others as the youth representative on the steering committee of the Stay Connected Mental Health Project.


“What we’re attempting to do is create a culture in which young people who are transitioning from youth care at the IWK mental health and addiction program to the adult mental health and addiction program experience a seamless transition,” says Debbie Phillips, project coordinator.


Phillips says the transition from youth to adult care usually happens around the age of 19 in Nova Scotia -- a vulnerable age at the best of times.


For an average 19-year-old, there are struggles and challenges associated with your normal coming of age,” says Phillips. “You throw in the mix a mental illness and that really can add an additional level of challenge to the already existing vulnerability.”


Phillips says the project is making the transition easier through several initiatives. A focus on collaborative care is bringing together staff from the IWK and Nova Scotia Health Authority.


“The staff will learn together, they’ll learn from one another and they’ll have that opportunity to develop those crucial relationships that are necessary to do truly collaborative work,” says Phillips.


“It was huge comfort for me throughout my transition to know that my doctors were still communicating throughout my transition process,” adds Oland.


The five year project is just wrapping up its third year. Both Phillips and Oland hope the end result will be a complete cultural shift.


“At the end of the five years, it’s simply going to be the way we do business,” Phillips tells CTV News.


“My hope is that at the end of the five years the cultural shift will be enough that my experience will be the norm,” says Oland.


The Stay Connected Mental Health Project was possible because of a generous gift to the QEII Foundation from Fred and Elizabeth Fountain. They made the donation in memory of their son, Alex, after he took his own life.


Alex was a university student at the time of his death. To honour this, the project also partners with universities to ensure students have access to mental health resources.