According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illnesses are common in the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year. However, estimates suggest that only half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment.
Working in National Security and Your Mental Health
It may seem unfair to ask these questions on your SF-86, but remember, the government is looking for reliable and trustworthy…anything that gives them pause on that has to be investigated. They also need to be sure that you can’t be coerced or have anything used against you.
While psychological conditions are part of the adjudicative guidelines, mental health issues can cause clearance applicants unnecessary anxiety. A current or former psychological condition in and of itself doesn’t cause a security concern, but when the behaviors trigger unlawful actions or could lead to a compromise of classified information or even espionage, it is a factor in the investigation.
Getting an Interim Clearance with Mental Health Listed on SF-86
While your responses on the mental health question won’t lead to a clearance denial, it doesn’t mean that you skate past the interim. Remember, an interim denial just means that more information is needed before they make the final decision. It doesn’t mean that your security clearance will be denied. You will just need to wait out the whole process while the investigator checks everything out.
And in the last few years, in an attempt to ease all of the anxiety around the questions, the government has made the mental health questions a little more specific, which has helped some avoid undue concern and extra scrutiny. A more specific line of questioning might help some candidates get an interim clearance, with the line of mental health questions being less open-ended as before.
Getting Help with a Cleared Job on the Line
One of the reasons that denials can happen with mental health issues is because issues were left untreated. Someone in denial is a far greater threat to national security than someone actively treating an issue. Not only can your personal life improve when you choose to get help, but it also improves the likelihood of your personal struggles not impacting your clearance…and ultimately your job.
In 2020, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) made it a point to say that “seeking counseling or undergoing treatment to address psychological concerns resulting from having COVID-19, or from the associated stressful effects of COVID-19, is not in itself considered a negative or disqualifying factor when officials render eligibility determinations…” He goes on to explain that personnel at the NCSC and associated agencies are committed to the ‘Whole Person Concept’ when making security clearance decisions.
The common thread is the seeking help portion. Adjudicators aren’t looking for perfect people – otherwise, no one would work in national security. They’re looking for people who take responsibility and are honest.
Don’t Make Your Psych Eval Your Tell-All Memoir
This is a really important question. If you’re called in for psych evaluation, know that this is NOT a therapy session. Dr. Scott Edwards has explained for us in the past the danger that candidates can fall into with giving the psychologist more information than is necessary or good. Over sharing is rarely a good look – even in social circles. While you don’t want to be perceived as evasive, but keep in mind that anything you tell the psychologist working in this nonclinical role could be reported to the government.
Bottom Line with Seeking Mental Health Treatment
Getting help is a good thing to do for your own personal welfare, but that move can actually be what leads to getting your clearance. The key to remember in all of this is that just because you get help or are honest on your SF-86, it doesn’t meant that you have to share specifics with your coworkers or even your boss. You can control how much you want to talk about in your every day. In fact, if people need to know some details as part of being on a team with you, write down the levels that you plan on sharing with people. There’s no need to give your tell-all with your coworkers. Struggling with things under the surface can make people either assume you’re happier than you really are or misunderstand your seeming moodiness. So, make a plan for what you need to share with people at work to function, but understand that the clearance process is different. The main thing is to be honest and direct on your SF-86 and to not shy away from getting the help that you need.