A number of news reports throughout the past year have dubbed mental health as the next global pandemic. The demand for mental health services and psychiatric care is up, while many states are reporting a lack of qualified care providers or psychiatric facilities. Polls by Gallup show that worry, stress, and sadness were all on the rise prior to 2020 – and have continued to increase.
Seeking proactive mental health care is seen as a positive – including in the security clearance background investigations process. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have both been very proactive in advising that security clearance holders should not shy away from seeking mental health treatment – and that includes a hospital stay to address psychological issues.
When it comes to mental health concerns, the government is most concerned about specific disorders related to reliability, judgment, and trustworthiness. If you seek mental health treatment with a psychological facility, be prepared to share the details of that stay including provider names with the government. The government will consider how you followed through with treatment when they make their decision. So whether you admit yourself or are committed to a facility, make sure you follow-through with treatment plans, including medications. And report any mental health hospitalizations to your security officer.
Don’t Let Shame and Stigma Stop You
Reporting a mental health stay – whether on the SF-86 form or as a part of the self-reporting process – may seem nerve wracking. It can be embarrassing to admit you need help, but getting the help you need is the best thing you can do for your career. Whether it’s substance abuse or psychiatric issues, often the best option is to step away and focus on the issue. Taking that time will not negatively impact our career – the focus for the government is on disorders that would impact your reliability or trustworthiness. And with all issues, it’s better to be up front and disclose issues than try to hide them and hope the government won’t be the wiser. That’s a play that rarely works out in the long run.