So much has been written about those who struggle with mental illness. While it’s important to take time to focus on active shooter preparations or hostage-taking issues, this discussion of mental health deals with an important myth. There’s a powerful history behind the myth, and it remains in many cases quite prevalent today. That myth is that if you try to seek out mental health treatment, you will lose your security clearance.

Mental Health Myths

Cleared employees probably even today bear the consequences of such falsehoods spread in the past about mental illness and clearances. We heard, and often took to heart, that if you ever are referred to, or seek out on your own accord, a mental health professional, or even simply seek behavioral health assistance, you’d probably lose your clearance and thus your job. This is not true.

Since such a belief has lasted so long, let’s see what the government officially says about it.

According to a recent publication by the Center for Development of Security Excellence Outreach and Engagement Office, reaching out for behavioral health assistance is not only good but can mitigate security concerns. It states, “Seeking behavioral health treatment is a positive course of action that often mitigates security concerns, but avoiding it can increase those risks.”

We have many avenues open to us to seek out such help. Your Employee Assistance staff is there to help. This does not, by the way, mean you must see a psychiatrist. Often the recommendation is to develop mental calming exercises, such as streaming, online.

A host of options are available today, and we must let our employees know they are there for them to use. Our national security depends in part on their taking mature, active measures to seek help.

Ignoring problems Makes It Worse

Too often mental health difficulties are left to fester. This implies that if the person affected will not take action, a referral must be made. But let’s start by assuming the person affected will do the right thing and self-report. These are the thresholds identified in SF-86, the clearance application form.

Let’s look at these carefully, because they will help supervisors and colleagues know what must be dealt with. A reportable issue would be the Declarations of Mental Incompetence by a court or administrative agency. Secondly, a court-ordered mental health care or evaluation (inpatient or outpatient) is reportable. Next comes any hospitalizations for mental health conditions (voluntary or involuntary).

Diagnoses of the following conditions by a health care professional need to be reported: Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or delusional disorder. Also, bipolar mood disorders, and personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. (Please note NO diagnosis is considered automatically disqualifying.)

Lastly, if a person seems to be developing a mental health or other health condition that substantially affects judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness, this needs to be made known to your security personnel office.

Empathy is the key

Care and discretion are the orders of the day in such matters. We cannot begin to know the difficulties which cause mental issues. These are best handled by professionals. Before we get to that point, however, we need to honestly assess the atmosphere we work in. Good attitudes toward security come when people feel a part of a caring organization.

Are we in an ‘open door’ office? That means, do we care enough about our employees to say our door (especially the personnel security door) is always open to confidential, personal discussions? Does a private, sound-restricted room exist in which a person can broach the subject of concern for his mental health? Do we have, or have access to personnel who know how to properly process concerns that might arise in this matter? We need to ask these hard, often illuminating questions of ourselves, too, because often our office atmosphere is a reflection of ourselves.

Do we make our employees aware of this issue, and the help available to those seeking mental health assistance? Do we ask mental health professionals to brief the staff regularly? Too often we discover that mental health is considered last, if at all, when we evaluate a person’s clearance suitability.

Make it a rule in your office to make time for relaxation, for positive group non-work-related interaction. Take a day off to do a joint venture, if only to a restaurant. Military units often had a ‘Hail and Farewell’ tradition. This was when new people were welcomed formally, usually in a private home or restaurant setting. The new people were made to feel at home by other outreach methods, such as a spouse’s club, children’s clubs, or sports leagues. The civilian world was less so. Invite the chaplain, your drug-control officer, and any other person who can help ameliorate mental concerns.

Your job is to provide security. Knowing mental health awareness is one key way to do so.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.