Mental Illness and Your Security Clearance

Security Clearance

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a training module focused on cleared personnel and mental wellness. The online module takes about 30 minutes to complete and is “designed to bring a mindfulness to the community about mental disorders.” It is also designed to help answer five key questions concerning the work force which enjoys the trust and confidence of their government by virtue of having a security clearance.

These five questions are:

  1. What is the truth and what are simply myths surrounding mental disorders?
  2. Should individuals with a mental disorder be able to hold a clearance?
  3. How does inappropriately talking or gossiping about an individual’s mental disorder with coworkers’ cause hurt to that individual and further reinforce a myth or stigma? How is it the opposite of providing support and empathic understanding?
  4. Do you unknowingly have a problem that would benefit from seeking treatment at an Employee Assistance Program provider?
  5. How do you report behaviors of concern which may or may not be related to a mental disorder?

The knee-jerk reaction that mental health issues cause automatic clearance denial is not true. Between 2006 and 2016 only one in 35,000 were denied or lost a security clearance due to mental illness.

The training is designed to reduce the potential for a psychological condition carrying a stigma. Given that 25 percent of employees experience a psychological condition in some point in their life, this module seems long overdue.

The training uses a combination of video presentations as the user walks through a virtual office, along with magazines and PowerPoint presentations.

The SF-86 asks about mental health issues because certain “emotional, mental, and personality conditions can impair judgment, reliability , or trustworthiness.” ODNI’s new training emphasizes how “mental health treatment and counseling” is not sufficient reason to revoke or deny eligibility for access to classified information.

The final points contained in the training are a laundry list of specific behaviors of which personnel security professionals are most concerned:

  1. Witting or unwitting exposure of the names of IC personnel to Foreign Intelligence Service or the media.
  2. Breaches in security of government facilities.
  3. An employee providing classified information, wittingly or unwittingly, to unauthorized persons.
  4. Attempts to gain access to information for which they have no need-to-know.
  5. Coming in early to work or working late for no obvious reason.
  6. Sending materials to print to other than their normal printer.
  7. Not reporting foreign travel or meetings with foreign national

Want to learn more? Take the training yourself: ODNI – Mental Wellness training module

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).