Are Psychological Evaluations Really Enough?

One would like to believe that the first responders serving our communities are the epitome of perfect health, both physically and mentally. They work hard to serve fellow citizens while maintaining their composure and exhibiting a calm demeanor in stressful situations, potentially because of certain psychological traits that they possess. However, one must also acknowledge that a person can only bend so much until they break.

After reading in the news about a tragedy in Ottawa this week in which a RCMP officer took his own life, I began questioning whether or not psychological tests are routinely performed to monitor and ensure the health of these men and women. Unfortunately, the only information I could find indicated that psychological evaluations are usually only performed during the screening process before an officer is recruited. Additionally, after experiencing “traumatic events” they are often given time off and sometimes reassessed. However, when every day in your job can be considered “traumatic” it is difficult to draw the line between a normal day and a distressing one. Therefore, much of the mental strength of an individual is tested before they even step foot on the job.

With so much importance being places on these preliminary psychological evaluations, one would hope that they are both reliable and valid, especially over long periods of time. However, data on these measures was particularly difficult to find. Most worrisome, in my opinion, is whether or not these assessments have test-retest reliability, and if the results of such assessments would change after exposure to the work environments of the RCMP officers. Additionally, whether or not these psychological evaluations are true predictors of job performance and ability is another question that should be answered.

Overall, with the concerning lack of public data on this evaluation’s validity and reliability in terms of RCMP officers, one must wonder if these tests are truly a good determinant of whether someone would make a good officer. Although I believe that these tests are a good first step, do they really ensure that these potential officers have what it takes to work in such a stressful position every single day? Without the information on the test-retest reliabilities or the predictive validity of the test on the office’s performance, it is difficult to say for certain. However, the rising number of mental health related issues that these officers are facing makes it hard to believe that this initial psychological evaluation is enough.

In the future, while keeping the mental well-being of these officers and other first responders in mind, it may be important to assess the psychological evaluations used, and also require more regular assessments. These men and women incur stressful situations on a daily basis on the job, which would take a toll on anyone after enough exposure. Therefore, in order to prevent as many mental health problems as possible and allow for early intervention, more frequent psychological assessments may be beneficial.

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