Category Archives: Every Sailor Every Day

Security clearances and mental health—Part 1: Judgment matters

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This article is courtesy of our partners at the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and is the first in their series about mental health and security clearances.

One of the biggest reasons Warfighters hesitate to seek professional mental health care is the commonly held misunderstanding that getting such assistance could impact their security clearances. Here are some basics: The existence of a psychological diagnosis or disorder will not automatically disqualify you from getting or retaining a security clearance. Almost no one has lost a clearance for having a behavioral health diagnosis. Of those who have lost clearances, only 0.04% did so for solely psychological reasons. What’s more, the simple act of meeting with a mental health professional or obtaining mental health care will not automatically result in a loss of clearance. The issue of mental health and security clearance is complex, so it’s important to clear up some common misconceptions about how mental health can impact security clearance status.

HPRC provides a series of articles about mental health and security clearances, beginning with this one on how your good judgment favorably affects your clearance status.

Judgment matters

The real factors that heavily influence clearance status are whether an individual is trustworthy, dependable, reliable, and shows good judgment. Indeed, the vast majority of revoked or denied clearances occur because the applicant demonstrated a history of poor judgment and questionable decision-making. Infractions such as running up a credit card, getting numerous speeding tickets, or drinking and driving negatively impact clearance status much more commonly. The clearest disqualifier is active involvement with illegal drugs, including medical marijuana, which remains illegal at the federal level. Drug use and risky behavior, for example, are symptoms of more serious underlying psychological issues that can indeed impact clearance status. Many people incorrectly attribute negative clearance status to the simple act of seeking help instead of poor judgment and behavior.

Seeking help when you face a problem—including a mental health problem—actually demonstrates trustworthiness, dependability, reliability, and good judgment—the very factors being vetted for a security clearance. Being forthcoming about what you experienced and how you dealt with it by obtaining help from a mental health professional shows mental clarity and self-awareness.

Debrief/Bottom line

Warfighters are expected to have the tactical skills and stamina required to perform at consistently high levels in stressful environments. However, even the strongest have moments in life that might require them to call for support. When you’re struggling, it takes courage to admit it and seek help. Doing so means you’re strong, and it means you have good judgment. Calling for support means that you can stay strong and be prepared for your teammates and your family, both of whom depend on you to stay on top of your game.

Obtaining mental health care when you need it demonstrates good judgment that can be favorably evaluated during a security clearance investigation. All Warfighters need maintenance, from time to time, of their physical and psychological health. Don’t let simple misconceptions about a complex process stand in the way of calling for mental health support. Be proud of yourself for seeking help and be candid during the clearance process. You’ll be glad you did.

References

Defense Human Resources Activity. Welcome to PERSEREC. Retrieved from http://www.dhra.mil/perserec/

U.S. Army Personnel Security. Information on Question 21. Retrieved from http://www.dami.army.pentagon.mil/site/PerSec/Q21.aspx

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. (2014). Seeking Help is a Sign of Strength: Campaign Plan for Promoting Awareness of the Benefits of Help-seeking and Understanding. Question 21 of Standard Form 86. Retrieved from http://www.dami.army.pentagon.mil/site/PerSec/Q21.aspx

United States Office of Personnel Management, & Director of National Intelligence. (2013). Revised Instructions for Completing Question 21, Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions”.  Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://nbib.opm.gov/hr-security-personnel/federal-investigations-notices/2013/fin-13-02.pdf

Beat the Heat of Summer Transition Stress with Support

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Summertime is a great time of year, with the sun and accompanying warm weather putting us in a better mood than the short, cold winter days. We’re able to get out and enjoy the outdoor activities we missed out on during the winter months, and maybe take some well-deserved liberty to enjoy time with friends and family.

For Navy families, summer can also be a transitional period with Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves, deployments and other changes that can increase stress. Navigating these transitions can be difficult if you are not connected to the right support. Luckily, the Navy has resources to make these transitions a bit easier to manage, equipping you with predictability and controllability during the chaos. Online resources and services from military partners can also help Sailors and their families stay cool while navigating summertime stressors.

Navigating the Stress of PCS Moves

PCS moves can make you feel scared, excited, anxious, and hopeful all at once. Thoughts of picking up and moving to a new place, interrupting your routine, having to find childcare or school options for the kids, losing your social circle and disrupting your connections can be overwhelming. These tips and resources can help you find balance, stay connected and minimize PCS stress:

  • Utilize the Relocation Assistance Program (RAP) at the Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC). It has numerous resources to help Navy families navigate a big move, including its Sponsorship program which pairs you with someone similar in rank and family structure prior to your move.
  • Get step-by-step prep tips from Military OneSource’s Plan My Move, a tool that gives Service members a custom plan and calendar of all the things to think about and do prior to a PCS move.
  • Reach out to someone who can relate. The BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center’s peer counselors provide a listening ear to Sailors and families, offering customized tips, support and perspective during difficult situations such as deployments, moves, relationship challenges, career issues, and other every day stressors. Connect with them online at betherepeersupport.org, by phone at 1-844-357-PEER (7337) or via text at 480-360-6188.

Continuing Psychological Support

If you are currently receiving treatment, maintaining a relationship with a mental health care provider is essential, especially after a PCS move or major transition. Change can be challenging, but the process of transitioning your care doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips:

  • Inform your current provider of the upcoming move. Discuss your progress and work together to determine what goals to implement with your new provider. If you are on medications for psychological health, make sure that you have enough to get you through the time before meeting with a new provider.
  • If transitioning to a non-military provider, be sure to sign a release of information with your current provider so that the new provider can understand your history and offer the appropriate care.
  • Let the inTransition program help you make the switch to a new provider after any kind of move within or even outside of the Navy. The program connects Sailors with a personal coach who can make the move easier by providing support, locating resources, and helping connect them to their new provider.

Preparing for Deployment – Before and After

Deployments can be challenging for Sailors and their families alike, whether preparing for an upcoming deployment or adjusting to everyday life after returning home. These resources can help you and your family prepare for what’s ahead, whether it’s your first deployment or your fifteenth:

  • Military OneSource’s Military Deployment Guide has information, tips, and check-lists to help prepare for deployment, navigate life during deployment, and reintegrate after the return home.
  • Take advantage of family counseling available through your local FFSC. Their trained counselors can offer support for Sailors and families navigating the stresses of deployment and reintegration, and can provide referrals for any additional services that may be needed.
  • Learn more about Navy Operational Stress Control’s new Navigating Stress for Navy Families training, which helps Sailors and their families understand how to better navigate stress, including the stress that may be associated with deployment.

Finding More Information and Resources

Get familiar with the programs and services aboard your new installation or in your new community ahead of time. Head to the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS website to help you locate everything from barber shops and libraries, to medical and dental clinics with one quick search.

Military OneSource’s website also has sections about deployment, family, and moving that offer a wealth of strategies and support resources to help prepare for and navigate the many twists and turns of military life. And, because adults aren’t the only ones who experience stress from these twists and turns, check out Military Kids Connect; an online community designed specifically for military children between ages six and 17.

Reaching Out for Help

While stress is a normal part of life and can help us build resilience, too much stress or prolonged exposure to it can have severe impacts on our daily function and psychological health. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength. The Military Crisis Line offers confidential support and is available 24/7 online, by phone at 1-800-273-8255 or by text at 838255.

Staying Safe with Prescription Pain Medications

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Justin joined the Navy a few years ago, right out of high school. He’s proud to be a Sailor and has a passion for his work. After experiencing an unfortunate on-the-job injury, he goes to his nearest military treatment facility (MTF) for treatment and receives a prescription for a pain medication. His injury was serious and he’s been in a lot of pain, so he takes the prescription regularly to minimize the pain as much as he can.

After a week, although the pain is more tolerable, he continues taking the same dosage regularly because he is used to doing so to avoid the pain he was feeling in the couple days after his injury. He considers using his medication less often as he recovers, but he still has medication remaining and wants to do everything he can to remain pain-free.

If you’ve ever been in a car accident, had surgery, or gotten injured, you may understand how Justin is feeling. Being in pain is stressful and can take a toll on you physically and emotionally. Prescription pain medications can feel like a lifesaver in these circumstances. But continuing to take them after most of the pain has diminished can lay an unintentional foundation for misuse or addiction. The following tips can help you can manage your pain without the risk of misuse or addiction.

Understanding What Prescription Opioids are and How They’re Used

Opioids are a type of drug that is naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Prescription opioids may be made from the plant itself or from replication of the chemical makeup of the plant. They are used as pain relievers for moderate to severe pain. They may be prescribed for acute pain such as the temporary pain after a surgery or from an injury, or they may be prescribed for chronic pain conditions such as backache, arthritis, or migraines. Opioids relax the body and affect the brain. When misused, opioids can be addictive like heroin (another opioid). Some commonly prescribed opioids are hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and codeine.

Avoiding Unintentional Misuse and Abuse

After an injury or a surgery, some level of pain is expected and normal. The goal should not be to eliminate pain altogether but manage it so that you’re able to function until the pain eventually subsides on its own. In the initial day or two after an injury or surgery, the pain is usually at its worst, but over time, the pain is likely to improve and the need for pain medication should decrease.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that for first-time use, the number of days you take the prescription opioids can directly impact if you become a “long-term” user. For individuals who took opioids for eight or more days, 13.5% were still using opioids one year later. For those with a 31+ day prescription, nearly a third were still using them.

A prescription for an opioid does not have to be a one-way ticket to addiction if you are cautious. Certain medications such as antibiotics or antivirals are necessary at a specific dosage for the treatment of illness. Pain medications, however, only aim to alleviate the discomfort associated with an illness, injury, or chronic pain condition. Assess your own pain over time, and ask your health care provider if the prescribed dosage is still necessary for your level of pain.

There are also non-prescription medications that can be used for certain types of pain. Consider over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help you minimize prescription medication use, shorten the duration of time on opioids, or avoid it altogether. OTC medications come in various strengths and may be suitable options for pain from broken bones or oral surgery, for example. Studies have indicated that they can provide similar relief to prescription pain medications. Before making the switch, check with your provider to be sure that you don’t have any preexisting conditions that may cause a negative reaction.

Managing Pain Without Drugs

While medications are a quick fix for pain, there are non-pharmaceutical options available as well, particularly for chronic or long-term pain conditions. Comprehensive pain management is a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates physical therapy, relaxation techniques, education and other methods to help manage chronic pain. It focuses on the complex nature of pain and how it affects the physical, emotional, social and psychological health of those experiencing it.

There are various complementary methods for managing chronic pain that all have some evidence of effectiveness. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, heat and cold therapy, massage and gentle yoga are some of many other options for chronic pain management that don’t involve pharmaceuticals.

“Self-managing” pain is all about learning methods to help you manage your pain, “hacks” to incorporate into your current lifestyle and practices to minimize discomfort. It can be a great means of avoiding prescription drug misuse.

Using Prescription Drugs Properly with the 4 Steps

Prescription opioids are safe and helpful when taken for short amounts of time. Follow the Prescription for Discharge campaign’s four steps to avoid misusing prescription drugs:

  • Take Correctly. Taking prescription drugs as prescribed by your health care provider can help prevent potential misuse. Ask your doctor what other options are available to you after the initial pain subsides. It’s also a good idea to ask how long your prescription is valid, which may be different than the printed expiration date.
  • Report Promptly. If you have been prescribed a prescription medication by a non-military provider, you must report it to your chain of command and ensure they are entered into your military health record within ten days.
  • Dispose Properly. Medications that are no longer needed should be properly disposed of to prevent misuse. You can dispose of unused medication at home by placing it in a small plastic bag with an undesirable substance (e.g., kitty litter or used coffee grounds) and throw the bag in the trash. Cross out personal information on your prescription labels before discarding the bottles. You can also dispose of unused medications through secure drop boxes at participating MTFs.
  • Never Share. Ensuring your own proper use of prescription drugs is essential, but it is also important to help prevent misuse among friends, family and shipmates. Even if they’re experiencing similar symptoms, never share your prescription medications or take others’ medications.

Knowing the Signs and Reaching Out for Help

Seeking help promptly is the best thing you can do for health and safety if you think you or someone you know may have a problem with prescription drug misuse. Signs of prescription drug misuse include:

  • Mood swings or hostility
  • Abnormal energy
  • Significant increase or decrease in fatigue or sleep
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Asking friends and family members for their medication
  • Claiming that their prescription was lost or stolen

If you recognize these signs within yourself or others, speak with your command Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) or doctor, or call 1-866-U-ASK-NPC.

For more information and tips to use prescription drugs safely, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/NAAP/campaign_events/prescription/Pages/default.aspx.

The Sabotage of the Imposter Phenomenon

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Have you ever transferred to a new command, a new position or a new rank, and felt completely unprepared and insecure about your work performance? You don’t have to admit it out loud, but many in the Navy suffer in silence with the thought that they are “frauds” who, only by sheer luck, attained their achievements, successes, and accolades. Instead of realizing that their skill, intuitiveness, and knowledge contributed to their ability to transfer or advance, they may believe that someone made a terrible mistake in allowing it.

The structure and culture of the Navy can often require Sailors to take on new responsibilities with little preparation. Sailors may take on a collateral duty, and even with all the instruction and training, still feel overwhelmed and unprepared. The ability to adapt and overcome is highly praised, but constantly feeling unprepared can erode our feelings of self-worth and make us question if we truly belong.

Understanding the Imposter Phenomenon

“Imposter Syndrome” is a term coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

The imposter phenomenon or syndrome is not an official psychological diagnosis, but it can often be associated with anxiety and depression. It occurs in anyone but is often felt by high-achievers who connect their self-worth to success and question if they truly belong in their position. For Sailors, talking about self-doubt may be uncomfortable. It isn’t exactly a typical topic of discussion at the smoke deck or in the galley. The imposter phenomenon can cause fear of being found out as a fraud who is not really qualified to do the assigned job, resulting in ridicule, humiliation, and shame, when the reality is that they are fully competent and capable.

Learning to Believe in Yourself

You can overcome these feelings without embarrassment. When feelings of insecurity become overwhelming, and thoughts that everyone is going to figure out that you are a phony start to creep into your mind, there are some things that you can do to remind yourself that everything you’ve earned is due to your hard work and dedication, not sheer luck or coincidence.

  • Develop and maintain high-quality connections, and find mentors. These sorts of relationships are built on trust, commitment, and encouragement. By sharing experiences, proving that you’re not the only one who has had feelings of self-doubt, a mentor can help you learn to use vulnerability to your advantage and continue to excel. Others have been in your shoes, so you don’t always have to “figure it out on your own.” Find someone who can be a mentor that is willing to listen and provide the guidance you need.
  • Utilize your connections as a learning tool and an “support squad.” When you have buddies who you can talk to about your self-doubt, you can also look to them for inspiration when they have accomplished something new and learn the steps they took to reach their goals. Plus, they will be there to cheer for your achievements.
  • Keep a running list of your successes and accomplishments. It may sound like an activity for the self-absorbed, but when you feel like your achievements are not deserved, acknowledging them and realizing how many there are can be a great reminder that you truly earned them.
  • Realize that perfection is not attainable. Zero-defect is often the goal because we want to avoid accidents at sea or major mishaps, but no leader is perfect. You are human. Instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a failure,” or “I’m a terrible LPO,” allow your inner voice to say, “I’m doing my best,” “I’m trying,” and “I’m working on it.” That change will dramatically alter how you feel and respond to challenges.

Reaching out for Support

Feeling some insecurity about new tasks or experiences is normal, but when those feelings cause you to believe that you are undeserving of your accomplishments, it can contribute to other psychological health concerns.

The imposter phenomenon can manifest in multiple ways. No matter how it shows up in your life, it is important to remember a few key points: achieving perfection is nearly impossible, making mistakes and facing setbacks are normal parts of the process, seeking external validation is a surefire way to feel insecure, and asking for help is not a sign of failure.

If you or a shipmate is dealing with psychological health concerns, the BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center offers resources and information 24/7/365 via phone at 844-357-7337 or on their website at http://www.betherepeersupport.org.

Unplugging from Social Media for Psychological Health

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Human communication and interaction have vastly changed over the past few decades. Twenty years ago, we never would have imagined that we could hold a phone in our hands and see pictures of what our friends are eating at a new restaurant in town or watch live videos of their babies’ first steps. We can only imagine the innovations to look forward to in the next ten years.

We see people scrolling on their smart phones, tapping and sharing photos, videos, and posts made by friends and family on social media platforms. Unfortunately, that scrolling can create feelings of inadequacy when the newsfeed is full of pictures of an old classmate’s new car, videos from a friend’s island vacation or posts about a cousin’s well-paying job. Social comparison is comparing yourself to the people in your social circle. With social networks, it’s much easier to engage in because of the constant barrage of updates from your connections. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy.”

The Effects of Social Comparison

Social comparison can impact self-esteem. A study from the University of Toledo and a study co-conducted by the University of Michigan and University of California, Santa Barbara examined social media use and its effects on self-esteem and psychological health. These studies show that upward social comparison, or comparison to people believed to have more positive qualities, can negatively affect self-esteem, mental health, and body perception.

Social media gives us the opportunity to present ourselves in the way we wish to be perceived. We can choose not to reveal the dozen “bad” selfies that preceded the flawless one. We don’t have to post about that embarrassing thing that happened at work and relive it through others’ reactions. The perfection we see on our social media feed may not be an accurate portrayal of our connections’ overall lives.

Resetting Your Connection with Yourself

While social media helps us stay linked to friends and family, receive updates about their lives, and even get quick access to what’s going on in the news, it can also create negative consequences, especially when those updates cause feelings of inadequacy or if the news is discouraging. Additionally, excessive social media use can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation when we replace real-life human interaction with digital communication. It’s important to find a balance that includes healthy use of social media, maintenance of in-person social connection with family and friends and opportunities to create new relationships.

Taking a break from social media can help improve your psychological health. If you don’t think you can break away from social networks completely, but find that certain connections make you feel drained, these tips can help make your feed become less emotionally exhausting:

  • Take a break from a Facebook friend by unfollowing or using the “snooze” feature, which removes their updates from your feed for 30 days.
  • Facebook’s Messenger app can still be used even if your account is deactivated, so you don’t have to stay on Facebook to communicate with your friends on Messenger.
  • On Twitter, “muting” allows you to continue to follow someone but no longer see their tweets on your timeline.
  • While many people have difficulty navigating Snapchat after its newest update, it may help make it easier to skip the stories that you can’t stand anyway.
  • If the fitness gurus on Instagram make you notice your imperfections instead of motivating you to get in shape, unfollow them.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your settings to hide status updates or your story from anyone who you’d prefer to keep in the dark about of certain aspects of your life.

National Day of Unplugging

If you think you might want to take the plunge into disengaging with social media, try it for just 24 hours on the National Day of Unplugging, from sunset to sunset March 9th through March 10th. Use the day to get in some needed self-care. Meditate, read, go for a walk, enjoy a screen-free lunch with a friend, or get some needed sleep. Screen time, especially around bedtime, can have negative impacts on your sleep cycle, so taking a break can also help you get a better night’s rest.

Unplugging can help improve your psychological health and make you feel better about yourself. Put your social media newsfeeds on pause occasionally, so you can reconnect with yourself, friends and family in more genuine and meaningful ways that can’t be edited or photoshopped.

If you or a shipmate is dealing with psychological health concerns, the BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center offers resources and information 24/7/365 via phone at 844-357-7337 or on their website at http://www.betherepeersupport.org.