It’s mental health awareness month, and a critical time to be reminded that seeking proactive mental health treatment is considered a mitigating factor in the security clearance process, not a negative. A 2016 change to the SF-86 updated the mental health question on the SF-86, clarifying that mental health concerns are specifically related to issues or disorders which may affect reliability and trustworthiness – not about the government needing to know if you seek counseling for anxiety or marriage issues.

In the wake of COVID-19 upending society and what many are predicting could be as a mental health pandemic, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) clarified that security clearance holders should not hesitate to seek mental health treatment for anxiety and depression – and such treatment would not be a disqualifier in obtaining a security clearance.

Despite changes to the clearance application and efforts to educate the workforce, many myths remain. Here are a few of the top myths about mental health for security clearance holders or applicants.

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1. Seeking mental health treatment could cost you your security clearance.

This is a big one, and harkens back to the days when mental health treatment of any form – include marriage and family counseling – had to be listed on the form. Something about having to tell the government you needed help made many security clearance applicants (falsely) assume that that would negatively impact their clearance. The reality is getting mental health treatment and following through with the advice of a medical professional is actually a mitigating factor for an individual looking to obtain security clearance.

2. You have to list all mental health counseling on your SF-86.

The update to the SF-86 transitions from asking simply about counseling to asking about mental health conditions and diagnosis that may pose a national security risk. The SF-86 asks: 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?

3. If you’ve been hospitalized for a mental health condition, you won’t be able to get a clearance.

Because hospitalizations are specifically called out on the SF-86, some may be worried that if they have to list any their chances of a security clearance are skunk. Listing a hospitalization is likely to mean you won’t be able to obtain an interim clearance, but the full background investigation will consider why a hospitalization occurred – and most importantly – what actions you took following a hospitalization. If it was the start of a proactive mental health status and seeking ongoing care, that will certainly look in your favor.

4. If your trauma is classified, you won’t be able to talk about it.

Many agencies have cleared mental health professionals on staff to help address trauma – don’t let the fact that your trauma is classified prevent you from seeking help. Reach out to your security officer to see if they can put you in touch with someone. Even if your trauma is classified and you can’t find a cleared mental health professional, keep in mind that there are mental health treatments that don’t require you to talk about your trauma at all. Eye movement desentization and reprocessing (EMDR) is just one type of therapy that doesn’t require talking about the trauma. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional experienced in veterans or national security professionals.


The key to mental health issues is being proactive – which is often one of the hardest things to do. Don’t let shame or fear keep you from seeking help.


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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer