Maintaining your psychological health is as important as maintaining a healthy body. But while no one fears the stigma of a regular trip to the medical doctor, proactively seeking mental health counseling can be an issue. Fortunately, as the years go by, it seems to be less stigmatized.
SF-86 and Mental Health
With more veterans returning from deployments being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), the SF-86 can scare security clearance applicants who are battling mental health issues. This fear is from the belief that admitting to seeking counseling for an emotional or psychological health concern will result in a clearance denial. But the snap reaction that mental health issues will cause a clearance denial alone is simply false. Between 2006 and 2016 only one in 35,000 were denied or lost a security clearance due to mental illness.
Changes in the Mental Health Portion Since 2016
If you submitted your last SF-86 before 2016, you may see some differences on the mental health portion of the long form. The U.S. released a revised version, the security clearance background investigation questionnaire, in November of 2016. That revision was most notable for its revamp of the section covering an applicant’s mental health history, where detailed inquiries replaced the very broad, anxiety-producing question. Four years have since passed and some clearance holders may just be seeing the form for the first time as part of a Top Secret or Secret periodic reinvestigation (PR).
Testimonial From the Blog
A testimonial on the ClearanceJobsBlog supports the notion that mental health is not and should never be a disqualifier (this reason alone) for a security clearance. All adjudicative guidelines are evaluated when making a security clearance determination. If an individual is seeking treatment and informing the necessary security officers of any pertinent details along the way, they should not be punished by having their clearance revoked.
“I just wanted to post my story here as a bit of hope for others that have received mental health treatment or are thinking about getting treatment. My 5 yr PR was initiated last July (fed for IC), just a few months after I had gotten out of treatment. I had a pretty severe eating disorder and sought treatment, ultimately going to a residential program, then PHP and IOP and being out of work for 10 months. The entire time, my agency was incredibly supportive. I reported myself to the security psychologists, interviewed with them before going, and after coming back. Still, I was so worried with my PR came up for renewal, given the length of time in treatment AND the fact that this was not my first-time seeking treatment for this issue. I remain in twice weekly therapy and am doing really well in recovery. My PR was completed in January, and I am now wanting to be an advocate in DoD and the IC for getting treatment. If you follow the process and mitigate any concerns, you can get treatment without it impacting your clearance.”
Mitigating Factors for your clearance
Getting help for psychological issues is a mitigating factor for psychological concerns under the adjudicative guidelines. Following provider treatment is a mitigating factor, as well.
The best thing an applicant with questions about mental health history can do is to take those pages of the SF-86 to the medical provider and ask them for help in filling out the form. There is a strategy behind this: not only will you ensure that those questions are answered accurately, but you will also receive buy-in from your provider before they are contacted by a background investigator.
Honesty is the best policy when answering these questions and you should read the exceptions to having to answer “yes” carefully. If you do respond with a “yes” answer, be sure to provide the dates and care provider contact information.
Only Answer What is Asked
However, one background investigator on the blog reminds us to only answer the questions that are asked of you when applying for a security clearance.
The new SF-86 specifically asks If you have had any of these situations:
- Applicant has been diagnosed with any one of a series of specifically enumerated mental health conditions;
- Has been hospitalized for mental health treatment or evaluation
- Has been declared mentally incompetent by a court or administrative agency or ordered to consult with a mental health practitioner;
- Has been non-compliant with medical advice or is currently in mental health treatment.
Work With Your Mental Health Provider
So, take the time to research who your provider was and where; send them a note that you are going through a background investigation for a security clearance and a background investigator may contact them. And be honest with your answers to the aforementioned questions.
In the U.S., almost half of adults (46.4%) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. So be an advocate for positive mental health. It’s better for you, and it won’t hurt your security clearance.