Category Archives: Resilience

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

Why Grit Matters

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.

Most people believe that talent and ability primarily enable peak performance and achievement. Emerging research shows that “grit”—a combination of effort and interest—also can predict success across a variety of domains, above and beyond your talents and skills. But what is grit? And is it possible to get more of it?

Grit is a psychological trait that shares some features with hardiness and mental toughness. It’s often compared to one’s ability to “suck it up and drive on” amid difficult situations. But grit is more than just your ability to plow ahead. It’s defined primarily as persistence or your ability to endure and carry on in the face of challenges and adversity. An additional facet of grit is consistency of interest or passion. Gritty people often are intensely committed to top-level personal goals for what they want to accomplish in life.

Why does grit matter?

Warfighters already might be able to envision what those with grit might look like in terms of their attitudes and behaviors. Gritty people don’t give up easily in the face of setbacks. They set goals, work hard, and stick with things until they achieve their desired end. Those who are high in grit aren’t easily distracted by new ideas and projects, and their interests remain stable from year to year.

Some research suggests that grit might be a factor in performance, especially during stressful, challenging, and demanding events. Grit can predict academic achievement in college students and adults. It also has been shown to predict retention of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) through their first year of grueling training and schoolwork. Grit might be able to predict how much effort and time someone is willing to commit to physical exercise as well.

How can I get more grit?

Some grit can be accounted for by your genetics and personality, but you still can work toward getting grittier. Try these strategies to boost your grit.

  • Practice, practice, practice. You can grow your capacity to perform difficult tasks and develop your skills by practicing things in a disciplined manner. Practice like you mean it by engaging in focused and deliberate efforts to shore up weaknesses and make gradual progress every day.
  • Find (and remind yourself) of your purpose. When what you do every day fits your interests, you’re likely to feel more engaged and satisfied, perform better, and stay at your job longer than those whose interests aren’t aligned. That might seem like an obvious connection, but even if your everyday duties aren’t exactly what you’re interested in, find ways to fuel your internal motivation. Ask yourself, “Why does this matter to me, and how does it matter to others and the world around me?”
  • Build optimism. Cultivating optimism enables you to remain hopeful in the face of inevitable setbacks. Try to think of one of the grittiest people you know. Whether the person is an athlete, Warfighter, or someone in your family, you might notice that he or she worked through roadblocks by maintaining hope. Try to accurately attribute the causes of your successes and failures too. And know that even though you might not be where you want yet, there still are many opportunities ahead to get there.

The bottom line

Grit is a psychological factor that can contribute greatly to your chances of achieving success, and it can help you handle things and remain passionate in the face of setbacks. If you have children, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section for more tips on how to cultivate grit in kids too.

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.

The Role of Resilience after Setbacks

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Health scares, forgotten deadlines, missed promotions, and failed classes are just a few of the unexpected setbacks that life can toss our way; and most of us have or will encounter some sort of setback in life. These obstacles can be disheartening at best. At worst after facing an obstacle or multiple obstacles, we may feel like we have no control and resign to accepting the failure as permanent. We may feel depressed, angry, defeated, frustrated, experience a depleted sense of self-worth, or even all of those at once.

While they may skew our outlook temporarily, learning how to constructively deal with setbacks and other obstacles can actually improve psychological health by helping to build resilience. This resilience not only helps us bounce back from failures and defeats, but helps us thrive in future efforts.

Risk and Reward vs. Fear of Failure

Risk and reward seem like they go hand-in-hand with fast-paced military life, and service members are often thought to be fearless. When we’re successful at something we took a risk on—whether a difficult mission or an advancement exam that took months to prepare for—our brains release a chemical signal called dopamine that makes us feel good. This builds our confidence and contributes to more success. Unfortunately, it can also impact our ability to handle failure1.

After a major setback or series of repeated ones, just the thought of failing at something can be discouraging and can ignite fear. Fear is an understandable feeling, but it often prevents us from taking the risk of trying again because our brains begin to associate that risk with a threat, leading to avoidance. Courage gives us the mental and moral strength to move forward even when facing challenges. It is honesty about fears, willingness to be vulnerable, the desire to succeed and the preparation for a potential failure. Engaging in courageous acts helps break down fears. Avoiding risks may seem like the best way to avoid failure, but the reality is that you fail at anything you don’t try.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Failure after taking a risk doesn’t have to signal the end of your effort. In fact, failure can breed some of our most creative moments that can lead us back to the rewards of success. Here are some ways to productively deal with setbacks:

  • Take a step back. Naturally, after dealing with a setback, you will want to replay it, figure out what went wrong, and fix it. Just as illnesses or injuries need time to heal, so do you after encountering an obstacle. Take the time you need to process what has happened, but try not to ruminate and cause yourself additional stress. Utilizing a breathing exercise can help you stay relaxed.
  • Take ownership without blame. Once you have dealt with a setback, acknowledge it and own it. Blame is a common response to a setback, but transferring the responsibility, whether to yourself or to someone else, will not eliminate or change the situation, and it may discourage you from trying to find solutions. Journaling is a great outlet to express and understand stress, increase self-confidence, boost mood and let go of negative thoughts after dealing with a setback.
  • Find support. Looking to the family, friends, and shipmates who you trust can help you feel better when dealing with setbacks. Encouragement from those you are connected to can be reassuring during times of disappointment. Also, spirituality helps many people feel motivated to persevere, and it can help you recognize your purpose and understand the potential reasons that a situation did not work out as you wanted it to. Chaplains can help you explore spiritual factors when dealing with disappointment and uncertainty from setbacks.
  • Regain control. While certain factors that caused a setback may be unrelated to your actions, remember that you still have control. Being able to face setbacks and understand how you can apply lessons learned in the future is empowering. Try making a list of your proudest accomplishments or your favorite personal attributes to remind yourself that you have the ability to succeed and are not defined by your current circumstances.

Bouncing Back

While setbacks are disheartening, they can be a catalyst for progress. Maintaining positive thoughts after facing an obstacle can help you better navigate stress and feel encouraged to accomplish potential goals. Engaging in self-care after a setback can alleviate stress and frustration. And getting SMART about your future goals can help prevent future setbacks.

Take some time after encountering a setback to avoid rushing into finding solutions before thinking through the options. Acknowledge the setback and realize that many factors may have contributed to it. Lean on friends, family, and shipmates for support, and remember that spirituality can be helpful for understanding purpose after a setback. Keep your cool after a setback to response positively and feel empowered to make needed changes for future opportunities. And always remember that even taking a risk is a sign of courage. If things didn’t go your way this time, don’t feel defeated. See a setback as an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if you have failed, remember the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

5 Small ACTs to Help You Chill Out

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Whether it’s strain and pressure within your unit as you work long hours to prepare for deployment, a disagreement with your spouse over something trivial that boils over, or a seemingly innocent debate with a friend that goes the wrong way, we can all expect to be blindsided by heated moments. Your reactions come quickly and before you know it, your heart is racing, your face is red and you’re saying the first thing that comes to mind (and that thing may not necessarily help the situation).

While disagreement and tension are normal and can even contribute to strengthening relationships, they can surely leave their mark if not carefully addressed. Unchecked anger and unresolved issues can fester, impacting the individuals directly involved, other colleagues or family members, and the mission at-hand. By taking a moment to be proactive, you can help to keep the pot from boiling over by exploring strategies to defuse intense situations.

Just in time for warmer weather and Mental Health Month, here are 5 Small ACTs to help you chill out:

Push Pause. The moment you see potential for a situation or conversation to escalate, call a time out. A lengthy explanation isn’t needed; just step back and offer to address things once all parties involved have had a chance to clear their heads and approach the problem calmly. Even if it’s just five minutes, creating some space between yourself and the issue can help you get a grasp on how you feel, what’s truly important and how you can work with others to move forward.

Breathe. This simple act is often taken for granted, but is an important first step in trying to get your emotional and physiological responses in check when the tension is rising. Taking a deep breath (two to three second inhale and exhale) can help to induce calm in the midst of calamity. If you have a few moments to yourself and can find a quiet space, try this Quick Fix Breathing Exercise or check out the exercises on the National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s Breathe2Relax app.

Laugh. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, kick-starting the production of hormones that are responsible for positively balancing your mood and promoting relaxation. Look at a funny GIF, head to your favorite blog or talk to someone who knows how to bring a smile to your face. A quick laugh can help you change the channel if you’re focused on a negative situation and enable you to approach a solution with a smile :).

Hit the gym, the track or the trails. You may find that your most productive days in the gym or your best run happen when you need to vent some frustration. Building exercise into your daily routine can help to burn negativity and rewire your brain after tense times. Whether it’s a run with a friend or mentor, weightlifting, interval training or yoga, turn to your favorite fitness regimen to maximize the mood-boost.

Communicate. If your situation involves conflict with another person, addressing it directly can lead to finding some common ground and getting things back on track sooner. Staying silent may only feed your emotions, leading to continued drama. When talking it out, try to use a neutral tone, make eye contact and explain how you perceived the issue or what led to the misunderstanding from your perspective. State that you would like to find a resolution that works for all parties involved (which may include compromising), and then actively listen to the other person or people involved. Instead of listening with the intent to dispute, make a point or interrupt, actually hear and process what the person is saying to you. Then restate it back in your own words to ensure that you have an understanding. Clarify whenever necessary and allow for natural silence, even when it may feel awkward. This will enable you to respond appropriately and meaningfully, minimizing the potential for a heated exchange. Other forms of communication may help you chill out by expressing your feelings, including journaling or speaking with a neutral person, such as a peer support advocate.

Before you land in your next heated moment, take some time to acknowledge what actions, words, topics or gestures are most likely to provoke you. Then note how you may react when these buttons are pushed. Taking this honest look at yourself proactively can help you keep off-the-cuff reactions at bay, enabling you to navigate issues calmly, learn from them and move forward. You may not be able to control others’ behavior or external situations, but with a little prep you can control your responses to them.

BONUS: Anger affecting your daily life? Check out this article from our partners at Real Warriors to help you identify your signs of anger and learn to navigate them in a healthy way. For more information on the Real Warriors campaign, visit www.realwarriors.net.