Posted: May 6, 2016

A life-threatening illness or a life-changing chronic disease can also bring rise to mental health needs.

Dr. Mazin Al-Battran is well known in and outside of GRH’s acute mental health units. Along with directly caring for patients with acute mental health needs, he also supports patients with mental health needs in the hospital’s cancer, renal (kidney) and childbirth programs.

Dealing with both a medical condition and a mental illness at the same time can be daunting. But Dr. Al-Battran says there are ways care providers can support both conditions, helping patients on their health care journey. Team work between health providers and efforts to streamline appointments for patients are examples of that help.


Dr Al Battran
What’s the prevalence of mental illness, both generally and when someone may have a medical condition?

The incidence of any mental disorder, the lifetime incidence, is anywhere between 10 and 18 per cent for any person. When you look at any clinical populations for medical illnesses, it jumps to about 30 to 35 per cent. So it doubles basically.

When a medical condition and mental illness happen at the same time, what complexities might appear?

It not only can obviously complicate the person’s emotional wellbeing, but can complicate the treatment options and progress of treatment.

If someone has a major depression and needs to attend appointment, they’re tired, sleep deprived and unable to concentrate as much. That impacts their ability to participate in their own treatment plan. So it could hinder the progress of their medical condition if it isn’t addressed treated properly.

What can make things better?

People are much more likely to be engaged with their own care if a mental health is present and if that support is provided outside of an exclusively mental health area. They’re much more likely to receive the care, show for appointments and improve.

How do you work with people who face a life threatening condition and a mental illness?

I’m lucky that I’m not the only one there. The nursing staff at the cancer centre have the ability to deal with those situations, de-escalate the patient and provide them with the support they need right at the moment.

I also have the support of three wonderful social workers that can facilitate some of the counselling to get someone through the crisis situation if they’re quite emotional or quite distraught.

When someone is dealing with both a medical and a mental health condition, how do care providers work together to help a patient?

Sometimes we sit in on a case conference. A lot of it is a friendly conversation where I would go to the clinic, sit down and talk with the oncologist dealing with the case. So definitely there is collaboration which in my mind is the most effective way of dealing with these things.

Sometimes we have some medications that can cause mental health side effects. On the other hand, we also have to be careful what medication we choose because some medications interfere with the treatment of cancer and that would be helpful to not choose those agents that would actually impair or reduce the response rate for the medical condition.

If a patient is dealing with a medical condition and a mental illness, what should they do?

I think patients shouldn’t hesitate to seek help. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will have another set of appointments that would be added to their agenda, which could be quite busy depending on the complexity of the case itself.

It could be someone who could attend their appointment in a regular fashion and could have a mental health appointment in the same location with another clinician.

People should speak up and if they need help, we’re happy to help.

Learn more about GRH's mental health program

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