Are you dealing with mental disorders? Do people with anxiety, depression, bipolar, or related mental illnesses need to be wary of taking a polygraph exam? Can your issues affect the outcome of the lie detector test? Mental health problems affect people’s lives worldwide, in every echelon of society. Do polygraph examiners account for these problems in the test results?
What do you do if you have a mental health disorder and your boss requires you to undergo a polygraph exam? What happens if you’re applying for a job requiring a polygraph as part of the pre-employment screening process? Should you be worried about it?
This post unpacks everything you need to know about taking lie detector tests if you have a mental health impairment.
How Do Mental Health Disorders Affect Polygraph Results?
There are several types of mental health disorders. Each of them has unique properties affecting everyone differently. For example, there are several levels of anxiety. Someone with low to moderate anxiety issues will have a very different life experience from someone living with the effects of high to severe anxiety disorder.
Also, there’s a difference in the effects of mental health disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. People with depression feel depressed all the time, but bipolar individuals switch between manic and depressed states. Let’s look at how these mental health disorders affect polygraph exam results.
Polygraphs & Anxiety
Anxiety disorders vary in intensity, depending on the individual’s mental state. Someone with mild anxiety might notice they feel restless or tense. They might develop other conditions like bruxism (teeth grinding) due to the impact of stress on the body.
People with high anxiety might also feel stressed and nervous. Still, they might develop more severe symptoms of the disorder, such as heart palpitations and insomnia, leading to potentially life-threatening scenarios if left untreated.
When people with anxiety undergo a polygraph test, the physiological stressors introduced by the polygraph exam scenario can mimic anxiety or intensify the examinee’s symptoms. Elevations in respiration or heart rate, as well as nervousness, are common in people with anxiety disorders who undergo polygraphs.
Polygraphs & ADHD
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) is common in children but also apparent in adults. People with ADHD experience aggression, irritability, fidgeting, excitability, hyperactivity, impulsivity, lack of restraint, and persistent repetition of actions or words.
These individuals may have trouble sitting still and fidgeting during the exam, which some examiners may interpret as signs of deception. Also, it’s common for people with ADHD to take drugs like Adderall. These medications are powerful amphetamine-based drugs that are prone to abuse. The effects of the drug may also interfere with polygraph results.
Polygraphs & Depression
Depression is a common mental disorder in America Adults. According to studies, more than 21 million adults in the United States have at least one major depressive episode yearly, and 7% of adults are diagnosed with depression.
People with depression may experience changes to the nervous system response that may appear as deception on a polygraph exam. Depression also requires people to take prescription drugs, like lithium and Prozac, to counteract the symptoms.
Polygraphs & Severe Mental Health Disorders
In severe mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, the stress of the exam may cause the person to experience a manic or depressive episode that changes their mental state. This change may harm the person’s mental health and impact their well-being.
Therefore, it’s advisable for anyone with a severe mental health disorder to consult with their doctor before consenting to undergo a polygraph exam. The doctor can advise them on if they have the mental strength to undergo the test, or if it will cause an adverse event. If your doctor advises against undergoing a polygraph, you can refuse to take the test.
You’ll have 48 hours from being notified of the polygraph to walking into the exam room to take the test. Make an appointment with your medical health professional and get their advice. Don’t assume you’ll be fine and blindly walk into the exam room.
Polygraphs & Insomnia
Insomnia is a mental health condition affecting up to 70 million Americans. Like other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, insomnia comes in various stages of duress in patients. Some people may experience insomnia a few times a year, whereas others might experience the problem regularly.
Insomnia affects the circadian rhythms in the body controlling the sleep cycle. Circadian rhythms are mental, physical, and behavioral changes in the body occurring over a 24-hour cycle. People with insomnia find they can’t unwind at night, failing to release melatonin and serotonin that help them fall asleep.
As a result, many people with insomnia must take sleeping drugs, like Ambien, to fall asleep. These drugs can affect their performance at work the following day. Since most people don’t have insomnia 365 days a year, they may only experience the problem in times of stress, such as being told you’re taking a polygraph exam.
Failure to get enough sleep the night before the polygraph test can result in an adverse outcome where you fail the test. Manners recommend getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep before taking the test to allow for adequate cognitive functioning during the exam.
Taking sleeping medication the night before the lie detector may also make you groggy, interrupting the physiological signals given to the polygraph equipment and examiner, causing results that may appear deceptive.
Polygraphs & Alcoholism & Drug Abuse
Almost 12% of Americans suffer from a substance abuse problem. Substance abuse involves the unprescribed and unmanaged consumption of prescription and recreational drugs and alcohol. While many Americans may have these issues, a lot of them don’t bring them not the workplace, while others do.
Employers can use suspicion of substance abuse in the workplace to polygraph their staff. Suppose they are found to be abusing or dealing drugs or substances, like alcohol, on the premises. In that case, the employer may take legal action against the employee in line with the guidance provided by The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 and employee. Employer hiring guidelines.
People who abuse substances like alcohol and drugs can experience changes in their physiological responses. As a result, they may present deceptive readings to the polygraph examiner despite doing nothing wrong.
For instance, the employer may test the staff for workplace theft. Tom is responsible for the robbery, but Jeff has a substance abuse problem involving the ADHD medication Adderall. Jeff initially took Adderall as prescribed by his doctor but developed a dependency on the drug and now takes four times his prescribed amount, securing the excess from the black market.
In the polygraph exam, Jeff fails due to lying to avoid his employer finding out he has an Adderall problem.
Can A Polygraph Detect the Difference Between Lying and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders?
Yes, examiners responsible for conducting polygraph tests have the training to detect the differences between symptoms of mental health disorders, like anxiety and ADHD, and deceptive behavior. However, new, inexperienced examiners might not have the field experience necessary to clearly identify their differences.
As a result, the examinee must inform their employer and the examiner about their disorder and medications before undertaking the test. In most cases, the examiner can distinguish between your anxiety or mental health symptoms and deceptive activity.
Can My Mental Health Issues Cause False Positives on Polygraph Exams?
Anxiety disorder, bipolar and other nervous system disorders can result in false outcomes in polygraph exams, especially with specific medications.
People with anxiety disorders may experience physiological symptoms like rapid breathing, heart palpitations, or increases in perspiration which examiners may misinterpret as signs of deception.
Will Anti-Depressant and Anti-Anxiety Drugs Cause Me to Fail a Polygraph?
Certain medications designed to treat symptoms of mental health disorders can affect the polygraph results. For instance, it’s common for people with anxiety disorders to take Xanax. Xanax is a powerful “benzodiazepine” and suppressant of the nervous system.
People that take Xanax may feel a sense of calm after consuming the drug. If your doctor prescribes you Xanax for your anxiety disorder, take your script along with you to your exam and a letter from your doctor stipulating your illness and the dose you take daily or as required to manage your condition.
If you’re using Xanax during the polygraph process, it may affect the outcome of the exam. Benzodiazepines will suppress the “Fight-or-Flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system and may cause you to feel less responsive if you have to lie during the exam.
However, a talented examiner will check your results against your behavioral baseline response at the beginning of the lie detector exam. Even if you’re using Xanax, the examiner may be able to determine if you’re lying, depending on their experience. Other drugs affecting polygraph results include Valium, Prozac, Ritalin, Adderall, and Lithium.
What Do I Do If I Have a Mental Disorder and I Have to Take a Polygraph?
If you have a mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression, you should inform your boss and the examiner before you take the lie detector test. During your initiation in the exam room, the polygraph examiner will use this information and account for it in your responses. They analyze the data and use it to build your baseline physiological response to the questioning process.
There is nothing wrong with having anxiety or mental health disorders and taking a polygraph test. Provided you have a talented and experienced examiner, your mental health problems shouldn’t get in the way of the test. It’s also important to remember you have the right to stop the test at any time.
So, if you’re feeling stressed and want to stop the exam, let the examiner know. Don’t feel you must push through to please your boss or the examiner. If you feel a panic attack coming on or you don’t feel well, inform the examiner and tell them you need to leave the room to get some air.
What Do I Do If I Feel Stressed in the Polygraph Exam?
If you feel stressed in the exam room and you might have a panic attack coming on, leave the room immediately. Move to an outdoor area with fresh air and sit in a shady spot. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Breathe through your nose for a five count and out through the mouth for an eight count. This breathing technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
You’ll find you take four to five breaths a minute using the technique, and you should immediately start feeling better. If you take medication for your condition, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax), take a dose of the drug and drink a glass of cold water.
These medications take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to take effect, so keep breathing and remain calm. If you feel you can’t control your mental state, ask your boss, the examiner, or the manager to call for medical assistance.
Can My Employer Force Me to Take a Polygraph Test?
According to The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA), no employer may force an employee to take a polygraph exam. You have the right to refuse to take the exam, and you cannot be bullied into accepting it under threat of reprimand or losing your job.
Some employers, such as public and state institutions, like law enforcement or intelligence services, are exempt from the EPPA. However, your rights still apply in these cases, and you can choose to leave the exam at any time or refuse to take it outright.
The EPPA protects private sector employees from unfair polygraph practices in the workplace. However, employers may still use it under certain circumstances, such as theft from the business that harms the organization economically.
However, the employer must follow the guidelines of the EPPA, and they favor the employee, not the employer. Check with the examiner if you need more information on your employee rights per the EPPA. The examiner has a duty to inform you of your options.