HALIFAX -- Nova Scotians are being asked to consider a dramatically different approach to dealing with mental health and addiction.

The Progressive Conservative opposition is proposing a new government department to deal with the issues.

The Tories want to create what they describe as universal mental health care and Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston unveiled the sweeping plan Wednesday to tackle a growing mental health epidemic in the province.

The Tories say one in five people are dealing with some form of mental illness; and after the age of 40, it's one in two.

It's deeply personal for John Lohr, the party's mental health and addictions critic.

"It's a file of significant importance to me, and this is a very personal thing for me," Lohr said. "My family has lived through a very difficult mental health crisis."

It was nearly six years ago when search teams recovered the body of Caleb Lohr at Cape Split.

The 21-year-old had struggled with mental health issues and had previously been arrested after a break-in at a home on the Northwest Arm of Halifax.

"I am particularly concerned about young people, as most mental health conditions show up before the age of 25," Lohr said.

The $100-million plan would see the creation of an entire department devoted to the issue, including its own minister.

Bill codes would open up so more private practitioners could get involved.

Mental health services would be available around the clock, and people in crisis would only have to dial 988 to access immediate help.

The party says it was working on the plan long before COVID, but with growing evidence the pandemic is taking a serious toll on mental health, the timing is right.

"I know from talking to people, the pressure they're under, the mental health stress they're feeling, is having very dramatic impacts, and we're losing a lot of people to suicide, there's no question about that," Houston said.

Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey was unavailable for comment.

The Tories say their research suggests taxpayers will save $2 for every dollar invested in psychological services -- something a lot of people are seeking right now.