Does Mental Health Screening for Soldiers Work?

“MENTAL health screening doesn’t help soldiers with psychological problems after they return from war. So says the first test of such check-ups.

The surprise result suggests other kinds of psychological screening, on school children or new mothers, for instance,may also be flawed.

Several nations perform psychological check-ups when military personnel get home. There are calls for the UK to do so too.

But in other areas of medicine, for example with prostate cancer, screening has come under scrutiny. It is generally accepted that screening should only be introduced once trials show it does more good than harm.” (Wilson, 2017, p.16).

A study of nearly 9,000 British soldiers, paid for by the US Department of Defence, returning from Afghanistan asked about symptoms of depression, PTSD, anxiety and/or alcohol problems (Rona et al., 2017).

  • 6,000 were placed in a screening group and offered a letter revealing if their symptoms pointed to a mental health condition; and
  • 3,000 were placed in a control group and offered a letter of thanks (including sources of support).

Over the study period the rates of mental health conditions were the same between the two groups.

However, approximately 2,000 of the screening group declined to see the results letter and the control group also completed the letter which may have prompted them to seek advice/help. Both of these factors will have affected the results.



Wilson, C. (2017) Military Mental Health Checks Don’t Help. New Scientist. 25 February 2017.

Rona, R.J., Burdett, H., Khondoker, M., Chesnokov, M., Green, K., Pernet, D., Jones, N., Greenberg, N., Wessely, S. & Fear, N.T. (2017) Post-deployment Screening for Mental Disorders and Tailored Advice about Help-seeking in the UK Military: A Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial. The Lancet. 389(10077), pp.1410-1423. DOI:


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