As we close out mental health awareness month, let’s discuss the subject of committing yourself to a mental hospital and what the repercussions are for your security clearance or career.
Generally, committing yourself to a mental institution is a decision you make for yourself and your mental health. The laws vary state by state, but usually you would only be hospitalized against your will if you present a “clear and present” danger to yourself or others.
A ClearanceJobsBlog subscriber was interested to know the effects of committing himself would have throughout the security clearance process:
In 1994 I voluntarily entered a residential psychiatric facility for several weeks due to severe depression (no drugs/alcohol/sex/credit/etc issues) resulting from a very protracted divorce. I’ve been offered a job today that requires that I be able to “… obtain and maintain a fully adjudicated security clearance…”.
I’ve never had an issue with a “typical” job background check, but this Secret Clearance is new to me. I’ve read that “Psychological Conditions” could be a disqualifier for my obtaining a Secret Clearance. Can anyone provide me any insight into whether I will be able to obtain a Secret Clearance due to my hospitalization 26 years ago?
Section 21 of the SF-86 covers mental health. Questions are included but not limited to things like:
- Has a court or administrative agency EVER ordered you to consult with a mental health professional (for example, a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, etc.)? (An order to a military member by a superior officer is not within the scope of this question, and therefore would not require an affirmative response. An order by a military court would be within the scope of the question and would require an affirmative response.)
- Have you EVER been hospitalized for a mental health condition?
- Have you EVER been diagnosed by a physician or other health professional (for example, a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or nurse practitioner) with psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, bipolar mood disorder, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder?
Bill Henderson, ClearanceJobs contributor advises, “You will have to disclose the information. If there hasn’t been any recent mental health counseling/treatment and you ended your prior treatment with the approval of your clinician, there shouldn’t be any security concern. Ultimately what matters is whether you have a condition that impairs your judgment, reliability or trustworthiness.”
Because adjudicators are evaluating applicants based on the whole person concept, one situation alone shouldn’t preclude you from obtaining a security clearance, especially if no criminal conduct, financial situations, etc. are attached to the circumstance. Any issues, including mental health concerns, can be mitigated by other factors. In this case, the passage of time (assuming no other issues have presented and the applicant has followed medical instructions) is a significant mitigation.
CHANGES TO THE SF-86 MENTAL SECTION
The new-ish form (if you last filled it out before 2016) asks if the applicant has been diagnosed with a series of mental health illnesses, hospitalized for mental health EVER, been pronounced mentally incompetent by a court or administrative agency, ordered to see a mental health physician, has not abided by mental health advice, or is currently in treatment.
These questions are meant to reduce anxiety and support seeking out mental health treatment. If you’re just now filling out the form and applying for a security clearance, the best thing to do is bring the mental health section to your medical provider and ask for help in completing it.
Seeking out treatment, or talking about your struggles, is no longer taboo. And getting help for your mental health – including a hospitalization – is certainly not more of an issue for your security clearance than allowing a medical condition to go untreated.
Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum, emails received, and comments from this site.* This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.