NEWMARKET, ONT. -- Southlake Regional Hospital is launching a $7.5-million fundraising campaign to improve and expand mental health services.

Sarah Banbury, Director of Mental Health at Southlake, says the Newmarket hospital is bursting at the seams.

"This will enable us to build the resources that we need to build a new, 12-bed adult inpatient mental health unit, as well as fund our new emergent mental health assessment unit, "Banbury says.

A growing community and ageing population have put a new strain on the hospital, sometimes running at 180 percent capacity.

Last year, Southlake admitted nearly 1,100 people to its 29-bed inpatient health unit. There were also some 33,500 outpatient visits.

"We've seen an increase and a surge in demand for our services over the last several years, and this has been accelerated due to COVID," Banbury says.

The Vice-Chair of Southlake's Board of Directors believes a successful campaign will help the hospital address demands quickly and effectively. Ansar Ahmed also hopes it will raise awareness and reduce the stigma of getting help for mental health.

"We need to make sure that we treat mental health with the same degree of care and urgency that you would with high blood pressure, cholesterol," Ahmed says.

Donations to Southlake's Mental Health Campaign can be made online or over the phone at 905-836-7333.