Does psychological screening at recruitment predict future health status in law enforcement officers?

  • D. Byrne
  • S. Miller
  • L. Olive


Background: Law enforcement is a stressful profession with documented consequences for both physical and mental health. This study examined the capacity of targeted psychological screening at recruitment to predict those who would go on to manifest both high stress and poor health early in their careers as police officers. Methods: Recruits to a large law enforcement agency (N=1543, mean age 25 years, 68% male) were assessed at intake for existing mental health, Resilience (R), and Neuroticism (N). Follow-up 1, 6 to 12 months into training involved N and R Scales, and General Health Questionnaire 12 (GHQ-12). Follow-up 2, 6 months into first operational deployment involved N and R Scales, GHQ-12, and scales of police operational and organizational stress. Results: The cohort was mentally healthy at intake; N and R scores consistent with international norms; N and R were significantly negatively correlated. Both N and R correlated with existing psychopathology; N and R remained stable over follow-ups. Neither N nor R predicted GHQ-12 scores at follow-up 1; female recruits reported significantly higher levels of psychological distress than males. Both N and R at intake significantly predicted psychological distress at follow-up 2, with N being the stronger predictor. N at intake (but not R) significantly predicted both operational and organizational stress at follow-up 2. Conclusions: Intake screening for N and R predicted psychological distress 2 years later and N also predicted police-specific stress. Prospective associations may be influenced by gender. Longer follow-up must be undertaken to confirm associations in functioning police officers.
Oral presentations