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J Med Screen. 2003;10(1):40-6.

Screening for vulnerability to psychological disorders in the military: an historical survey.

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Department of Psychological Medicine, Guy's, King's and St Thomas's School of Medicine, 103 Denmark Hill, London SE5 BAZ, UK.



To evaluate attempts in the military to screen for vulnerability to psychological disorders from World War I to the present.


An extensive literature review was conducted by hand-searching leading medical and psychological journals relating to World Wars I and II. Recent publications were surveyed electronically and UK archives investigated for British applications.


Despite the optimism shown in World War I and the concerted efforts of World War II, follow-up studies showed that screening programmes did not succeed in reducing the incidence of psychological casualties. Furthermore, they had a counter-productive effect on manpower, often rejecting men who would have made good soldiers. Continued experimentation with screening methods for psychiatric vulnerability failed to yield convincing results during the post-war period.


Although well-measured variables, such as intelligence, have been shown to predict success in training and aptitude, no instrument has yet been identified which can accurately assess psychological vulnerability. Previous attempts have failed because of false-positives, false-negatives and reluctance in the target population because of stigma. Early findings suggest that psychological surveillance, if not screening, may yield valuable results when applied to military populations exposed to stress.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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