Vol.1, No.2, 44- 48 (2011)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJPM/
Open Journal of Preventive Medicine
Validation of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12)
adapted to a work-related context
Francois-Xavier Lesage1,2*, Sonia Martens-Resende2, Frédéric Deschamps2, Sophie Berjot1
1Laboratory of Applied Psychology-LPA-(EA4298), Reims, France; *Corres ponding a uthor: fxlesage@chu-reims.fr
2Occupational Health Department, Faculty of Medicine, Hôpital Sébastopol, Reims, France.
Received 25 May 2011; revi sed 14 July 2011; accepted 31 July 2011.
Introduction: the aim of this study is to test the
factorial structure and the internal consistency
of the 12-items General Health Questionnaire
adapted to work-related psychological distress
(GHQW). Methods: a validated French versi on of
the GHQ-12 was used and transformed to re-
mind of the occupational context. A sample of
1014 workers completed the GHQW. Internal
consistency was assessed by Cronbach’s α
coefficient. The factorial structure was extracted
with an exploratory factorial analysis (EFA).
Results: th e EF A run on t he data yield to a on e-
factor structure explaining 60.5% of the total
variance of the scale. The Cronbach’s alpha
showed a very good internal consistency of the
scale (α = 0.94). Conclusion: the findings
support that the GHQW is a reliable and valid
instrument for measuring work-related psycho-
logical distress in workers. This work-related
version could find some applications in epide-
miological research at work, in the study of
psychosocial risk factors and in the occupa-
tional health physician’s daily activity.
Keywords: Occupational Health; Mental Health;
Questionnaires; Factor Analysis; Statistical; General
Health Questionnaire; Validity
The 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12)
is a self-report measure of psychological morbidity, in-
tended to detect psychiatric disorders in community set-
tings and non-psychiatric settings [1]. It is widely used
in clinical practice, epidemiological research and for
research in psychology [2-4].
The original GHQ is co mposed of 60 items. However,
different shortened validated versions of this instrument
are currently available (e.g., 30, 28, and 12-items).
The 12-items version, due to its brevity, is probably
the most popular and so, has been extensively evaluated
in terms of its validity and reliability as a one-dimen-
sional indicator of the severity of psychological morbid-
ity [5-9].
Respondents had to indicate, on a -points scale an-
chored with 1) less than usual, 2) no more than usual, 3)
rather more than usual, 4) much more than usual how
frequently they experienced recently the different symp-
toms listed on the scale. The general version of the scale
does not precise to participants any context in which the
symptoms have been experienced. Each item is rated on
a four-point scale, using one of two most common scor-
ing methods: dichotomous (0-0-1-1) or Likert-like type
The GHQ-12 is a well-known instrument for measur-
ing minor psychological distress and has been translated
into a variety of languages. If the GHQ-12 is not a tool
for indicating a specific diagnosis (e.g. depression, anxi-
ety, etc.), it is more useful and adapted in the work con-
text in the way that it can serve as an general indicator o f
distress and/or potential problems.
The GHQ-12 was desig ned and is u sed routinely as a n
unidimensional measure of psychological morbidity.
Many studies, however, have reported that the GHQ-12
is not unidi mensio nal, but in st ead assesse s ps ycholo gical
morbidity in two (positive and negative items) or three
dimensions (“anxiety and depression”, “social dysfunc-
tion” and “loss of confidence”) [10-19].
Considering the GHQ-12 to be a brief, simple and
easy to complete instrument, and thefact that its applica-
tion in research settings as a screening too l is well docu-
mented, we decidedto check its psychometric properties
in a work -related version.
This version could find so me applicatio ns in epidemi-
ological research at work, in the study of psychosocial
risk factors and in the occupational health physician’s
daily activity.
F.-X. Lesage et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 1 (2011) 44-48
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJPM/
2.1. Participants
One thousand and fourteen workers were randomly
selected in an occupational health center (In the French
occupational health organization, every workers have a
systematic medical examination annually or biennially).
At their arrival at the center, the authors, after having
informed the participants about the study objectives, ask
for their voluntary and anonymous participation in the
study, précising that they could withdraw at any time.
Both oral and written instructions were given to ensure
that the items were understood, and participants were
reassured that their responses were confidential.
2.2. Instrument
A modified version of the GHQ-12 validated French
scale was used [12]. The first modification was made on
the instructio ns, which (orally and written) asked whether
the participants experienced recently at work the symp-
toms and/or behaviors listed on the scale. The second
modification was made on the items of the scale. For
each item is now précised the work context. For example:
“Felt constantly under strain at work”. The occupational
context was reminded in the items. Each item is rated on
a four-point scale (less than usual, no more than usual,
rather more than usual, or much more than usual). The
Likert scoring method (0-1-2-3) was used for this study.
A higher score indicates a greater degree of psychologi-
cal distress.
2.3. Statistical Analysis
We performed exploratory factor analysis (EFA) to
explore the structure of the in strument, with the principal
components method. The cutoff of factor loading adopted
was >0.5 [20].
The reliability of the measure was examined in rela-
tion to the instrument’s internal consistency by calculat-
ing the Cronbach’s α co efficie nt a nd the homoge neit y of
the scale (mean inter-item correlations). A Cronbach’s α
coefficient of 0.70 or greater and mean inter-item corre-
lations situated in a 0.20 to 0.40 range were considered
as satisfactory [21]. The means and the variances of all
items were computed with 95% confidence limits.
3.1. Descriptive Statistics
One thousand and fourteen workers, aged 18 - 63
years (Mean = 41.5; SD = 10.3) entered the study. Fifty
three percent were male. Demographics of workers who
responded to our questionnaire, and comparison with the
French working population are shown in Table 1.
Table 2 presents the mean scores (m), standard devia-
tion (SD), and correlations between items of the General
Health Questionnaire at Work (GHQW). The item’s
means range from 0.50 (item 11) to 1.20 (items 1 and 5).
The means inter-item correlations of the total set of
items was ranged from 0.42 (items 7 and 4) to 0.79 (item
10 and 9).
3.2. Factor Structure
Table 2 presents the factor loading produced by the
EFA with the principal component method. This analysis
identified a single factor model (factor loadings ranging
from 0.68 to 0.89), explaining 60.5% of the total vari-
ance of the scale.
3.3. Homogeneity and Reliabilit y
The 12 items of the GHQW showed good homogene-
ity. The average inter-item correlation was 0.57. The
items-total correlations were ranged from 0.62 to 0.86
indicating a good contribution to the total score.
The internal consistency of the questionnaire was
measured using the Cronbach’s α coefficient. This coef-
ficient was found to be 0.94.
The current study aimed at exploring the structure and
reliability of the GHQ-12 adapted to a work-related
context (GHQW). We have tried to adapt the GHQ-12,
the shorter version of the GHQ, to a work-related con-
text. It could be a very helpful tool in the field of occu-
pational psychology.
There are significant difference between the subjects
and French workers. The ratio of the youngest workers is
more important in our sample. In fact, there is some dif-
ferences in the different parts of France. Whatever, there
is no influence on the validation. Most of the validation
studies was done with sample s of stud ents. We prefer an
Table 1. Demographics of subjects and comparison with the
French workers.
Subjects (n = 1014) Frenc h workers*
(n = 27,600,000) p
(mean,(SD)) 41.5 y (10.3) 40.2 y ns
<30 years 19.8% 13.5% <0.01
30 - 39 y 26.3% 31.9% <0.01
40 - 49 y 28.1% 27.6% ns
>49 y 25.7% 27% ns
male 53% 53.6% ns
*According the «institut national de la statistique et des études économi-
ques»; ns: p > 0.05.
F.-X. Lesage et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 1 (2011) 44-48
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJPM/Openly accessible at
Table 2. Means (m), Standard Deviation (SD) and correlations between items, item-total correlations, and exploratory factorial analy-
sis (EFA) of the General Health Questionnaire at Work (GHQW).
Item 1 Item 2 Item 3Item 4 Item 5 Item 6Item 7Item 8Item 9Item 10Item 11Item 12 Item-total
correlations* EFA:
Factor I
Item 1 1.00 0.72 0.77
Item 2 0.59 1.00 0.74 0.78
Item 3 0.52 0.47 1.00 0.62 0.71
Item 4 0.56 0.40 0.54 1.00 0.62 0.69
Item 5 0.55 0.66 0.46 0.43 1.00 0.74 0.78
Item 6 0.59 0.70 0.50 0.51 0.67 1.00 0.81 0.84
Item 7 0.46 0.43 0.51 0.42 0.51 0.481.00 0.62 0.68
Item 8 0.58 0.52 0.49 0.56 0.48 0.590.481.00 0.68 0.74
Item 9 0.62 0.71 0.56 0.52 0.73 0.770.560.581.00 0.86 0.89
Item 10 0.66 0.66 0.55 0.56 0.63 0.750.470.600.791.00 0.84 0.87
Item 11 0.55 0.56 0.54 0.50 0.58 0.660.440.520.690.781.00 0.75 0.80
Item 12 0.53 0.51 0.56 0.46 0.57 0.540.650.500.660.580.561.00 0.71 0.76
score 1.20 1.00 1.11 0.99 1.20 0.831.171.140.790.640.501.15 60.5%**
SD 0.62 0.98 0.73 0.65 0.95 0.940.680.651.010.960.880.68
*Aver age inter-item correlation: 0.57; Cronbach’s α coefficient: 0.94, **total variance of the scale explained by the one factor structure.
“ecological” validation with a worker sample. There is
some differences in age structure but our sample is near
the French workers’ one.
4.1. Factor Structure
Although the GHQ-12 was designed as a unidimen-
sional scale, two- and three-factor models have been
frequently reported. Currently, the factor structure of the
GHQ-12 remains under debate. The World Health Or
ganization study of psychological disorders in general
health care in 15 different centers indicated that there is
substancial factor variation between centers for the
GHQ-12 [22].
The inconsistent findings might be partly due to the
statistical methods used (principle component analysis
with varimax rotation or confirmatory factor analysis),
and wording effects (positively and negatively worded
items) [23].
But the context might be an important cause of these
inconsistent findings. The factor structure of the GHQ-
12 is often explored in various and specific population,
such as elderly adults, students, or physician population.
These specific populations refer to their own environ-
ment to answer to this q uestionnaire. An item or a set of
items of the GHQ-12 have probably not the same mean-
ing in elderly adults, unemployed population, or students.
Moreover, each of these populations can refer to differ-
ent life events (whether occupational, whether private)
for the meaning of the items.
In this study, the structure and reliability of the GHQ-
12 is explored in a large and almost representative popu-
lation of French workers, and the items remind the ref-
erence context. This work-related version induces a
more homogeneous meaning of the set of items, and so
probably contributes to the single factor structure and the
high reliability of the GHQW.
We use a n EFA b ecause we do no t have stro ng theor y
about the construct underlying responses to our meas-
ures in an occupational context. A second study could
follow up with a Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) to
confirm the factor structure of the GHQW. This CFA
cannot be done using the same data set. W hatever, a CFA
performed in a large sample of workers is useful.
The high factor loading and its homogeneity consoli-
date the use of the GHQW as a unidirectional measure.
The score of the GHQW can be the sum of the items,
without weightin g some items.
4.2. Reliabil ity
In general, the most research findings throughout the
world show satisfactory reliabilities. Cronbach’s alpha in
our study was 0.94. The internal consistency of the
GHQW is over the original French translation of the
GHQ-12. (0.78), and close to two French GHQ-28 item
alpha, respectively 0.91 and 0.95 [24,25].
We have data from more than 80 subjects for every
measured variable in the model, which is widely over the
10 subjects recommended per variable [26]. This large
sample provides a good reliability in our parameter es-
The specific context of work-related psychological
context increases the homogeneity of the GHQW. The
findings reported in the current study support the psy-
chometric appropriateness of the GHQW.
We have study the possib ility to provide a shorter ver-
sion of the GHQW. But the good homogeneity of the
item-total correlations does not allow it (Table 2).
The current study provides some evidences that the
F.-X. Lesage et al. / Open Journal of Preventive Medicine 1 (2011) 44-48
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJPM/
GHQW is a reliable version (Cronbach’s α coefficient:
0.94) and valid instrument for measuring work-related
psychological distress The findings reported support a
single factor structure, as in the original Goldberg’s ver-
This version could find so me applicatio ns in epidemi-
ological research at work, in the study of psychosocial
risk factors and in the occupational health physician’s
daily activity.
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1- Able to concentrate
2- Lost sleep over worry
3- Play usef ul part in things
4- Capable of making decisions
5- Constant l y unde r strai n
6- Could not overcome difficulties
7- Enjoy day-to-day activities
8- Face up problems
9- Feeling unhappy and depressed
10- Losing confidence in self
11- Thinking of self as worthless
12- Reasonable happy