Over the past year the Defense Counterintelligence Agency (DCSA) and National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) have made major pushes to address issues around mental health treatment and the security clearance process. One effort made to improve the process within DCSA is the formation of a new Behavioral Science Branch consisting of eight adjudicators specifically trained in how to evaluate psychological issues as a part of the security clearance process.
Mental health is an adjudicative guideline, but security clearance experts are quick to point out the importance of reading the SF-86 carefully. Many clearance holders and applicants needlessly worry about things that aren’t even a part of the process, and that don’t need to be reported at all. A previous version of the SF-86 did create ambiguity, requiring all counseling to be issued. Today, however, the form is very clearance that only specific diagnosis or incidents (such as a mental health hospitalization), need to be listed or self reported. And even for those issues, nothing related to mental health is an automatic disqualifier in the security clearance process.
Things that DON’T need to be listed on the SF-86 (or self-reported):
- Routine mental health treatment for issues like marriage and family life, depression, or anxiety.
- Specific medications that may be taken for routine mental health issues like depression or anxiety.
Things that DO need to be listed on the SF-86 (or self-reported) but which do NOT automatically result in clearance denial:
- Court-ordered mental health consultations.
- Mental health hospitalizations.
- Diagnosis of specific mental health conditions which if left untreated, in particular, could result in issues with reliability, judgment, and trustworthiness, including psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, bipolar mood disorder, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder.
Be careful to read the form carefully and only list mental health treatments as required. First and foremost remember that proactive mental health treatment – including following through with prescribed medications – is generally the best way to maintain clearance eligibility while dealing with a mental health issue.
“The data is clear – losing or failing to gain your clearance eligibility for a psychological condition alone is extremely rare, said Dr. Michael Priester, DCSA CAS chief psychologist. “Even in combination with other issues, it is still rare to lose one’s clearance eligibility. Most of the individuals who lost or did not gain eligibility had a variety of issues involved in the case, sometimes as many as six guidelines were cited. Showing poor candor about reporting known psychological conditions raised much more of a security concern, and often led to personal conduct concerns.”