06/21/2012 06:18 EDT | Updated 08/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto's 'new' Centre for Addiction and Mental Health opens

Canada's largest mental health institution has been redesigned to encourage a more open atmosphere that is better connected to the surrounding community.

What officials are lauding as Toronto's 'new' Centre for Addiction and Mental Health celebrated its grand opening Thursday morning, during an event hosted by CBC Toronto's Metro Morning radio host Matt Galloway.

Once a grey, grim and isolated institution known as the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, the 162-year-old facility in the city's west end is being officially reborn as an open, inclusive treatment centre — an attempt to counter the stigma of mental health issues.

The redesign includes tearing down most of the wall that once separated the institution from the Queen Street West neighbourhood.

"To me the redevelopment of this campus is the physical representation of that value and the hope that we see for people with mental illness," said Dr. Catherine Zahn, CAMH's president and CEO.

The three buildings being officially opened Thursday are:

The Intergenerational Wellness Centre: It includes 12 new beds for youth between the ages of 14 and 18 struggling with both addictions and mental-health issues. CAMH says they are the first dedicated beds of their kind in Canada.

"You have to work a little harder to connect with kids," to help them relate to the clinician, said Christina Bartha, the program's director.

According to CAMH, about 1.2 million Canadians under 19 live with a mental illness, often while fighting addictions.

The wellness centre also includes a Geriatric Mental Health Program, combining 48 inpatient beds with outpatient programming and support.

The building also includes a private landscaped courtyard, a rooftop garden and several terraces.

The Bell Gateway Building: The site's key administrative building, it will also feature its client-run Out of this World cafe. Symbolic of CAMH's transformation, the formerly internal coffee shop will now be open to the neighbourhood.

All of the cafe's employees have had or are in treatment at the facility.

The cafe's manager, Warren Hawke, says working there gives employees a sense of purpose and belonging.

"It really makes a huge difference," he said. "Reduces the amount of time they spend in hospital. It's a huge change in their life."

Marlon Newman, 38, has worked there for 15 years and calls it his dream job. The former CAMH client and father of one serves people coffee from his cart at least three days a week for $11 an hour.

"The best part of my job is my customers," he said. "Because they always treat me [well] and they always [are] nice to me so I do the same thing to them."

The Utilities and Parking Building: This building will include several levels of parking, as well as meeting spaces and client assessment and training spaces. The meeting rooms can be booked by the public after hours.