Category Archives: Suicide Prevention

Security clearances and mental health—Part 2: Q21 on SF86

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This article is courtesy of our partners at the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and is the second and final article in HPRC’s series about misunderstandings often connected to the relationship between mental health and security clearances. Keep in mind that the trustworthiness, dependability, reliability, and good judgment of an individual matter more than the simple act of seeking care for mental health issues.

Another common myth is that you may not be granted clearance by answering affirmatively to question 21 on the SF86. In fact, answering, “yes” to question 21 on the SF86 will not automaticallydisqualify you from gaining or retaining an active clearance.

Question 21 on the SF86

There also is a commonly held belief that an affirmative answer to question 21 (Q21) on the SF86 puts you at risk of losing your clearance. Q21 asks, “In the last 7 years, have you consulted with a healthcare professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or were you hospitalized for such a condition?” Obtaining any type of mental health or psychological care, court-ordered or not, should result in a “yes” answer to this question except if the psychological health counseling was strictly for:

●      Grief, marital, or family concerns not related to violence by you

●      Adjustments from service in a military combat zone

●      Being a victim of sexual assault

Every application for a clearance is reviewed individually, and your response to each question will be taken within the overall context of your personal and professional history. Perhaps you can demonstrate that your diagnosis was mitigated by the mental health treatment you received. This shows good judgment, execution of strategies for improvement, and a better health outcome because of the steps you took. Any adjudication process considers a psychological diagnosis to assess the extent to which the diagnosed condition impairs the applicant’s judgment. There are some profoundly rare instances where operational and security judgment is clearly impaired due to psychological struggles, such as when a person is hallucinating or markedly disconnected from reality.

It’s critical to be honest in your response to Q21. If you respond, “no” to Q21, but interviews conducted through the clearance process suggest otherwise, further inquiry will ensue.

If you respond, “yes” to Q21, an investigator will contact the mental health professional you worked with and assess his or her level of concern with your mental health status. If the professional reports no concern for a defect in your judgment as it relates to maintaining the security of sensitive information, the inquiry into Q21 will end, and the investigator will proceed to review the rest of your application.

The biggest risk you could possibly face in answering, “yes” to Q21 is if your mental health professional reports continued concern about your mental health status, stability, and judgment. Perhaps you discontinued sessions against medical advice or without consulting the professional you worked with. Then the adjudicators might ask you to complete a psychiatric evaluation because they want to make a good judgment call on your abilities to maintain national security secrets. Psychiatric evaluation is rarely requested, but asking an applicant to complete one gives them the information needed to make their decisions.

Truth matters

Lying in response to Q21 or other questions displays bad judgment. It also can reflect on your trustworthiness, dependability, and reliability—factors that definitely do impact your clearance status. “Honesty is the best policy” when responding to Q21. You will have a chance to clarify if you answer, “yes,” but if you lie and get caught, you’re at greater risk of damaging your clearance status.

Debrief/Bottom line

In November of 2016, then Director of National Intelligence, James Comey, issued revised instructions for completing Q21 on the SF86 form. The changes shift focus from the act of help seeking to “whether an individual has a condition that may affect his or her eligibility for access to classified information (security clearance) or for eligibility to hold a sensitive position.” While these changes haven’t yet been implemented, it’s a step toward reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral health. And if you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to read part 1 about how good judgment positively affects your clearance status.

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.dspo.mil/Portals/113/Documents/SF-86-Campaign-Plan-OCT-2014.pdf.

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.

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

New Tools for Suicide Prevention Month and Beyond

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Navy Suicide Prevention Month is not just a 30-day blitz of suicide prevention efforts; it is the starting point for year-long conversations on how to be there for Every Sailor, Every Day. This September, the Every Sailor, Every Day (ESED) campaign will continue to lead the charge for Navy’s year-long suicide prevention efforts, promoting healthy behaviors, active engagement and open conversation through its popular 1 Small ACT message.

Over the next month, ESED will introduce new concepts and tools to enhance Sailors’ abilities to recognize risk factors, navigate stress, stay safe during high-stress times and understand the importance of seeking help. One of those new tools is the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit that provides resources to support local suicide prevention engagement. This year’s toolkit will be available by mid-August and will be digitally distributed to suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs) and other gatekeepers who have subscribed to Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s email distribution list (available to sign up here). It will also be available to download year-round on www.suicide.navy.mil. All toolkit content aligns to the ESED campaign’s FY-19 focus areas, including various ways to engage in self-care, practice lethal means safety during times of increased stress and empower Sailors to feel comfortable seeking help without fear of judgement or impacts to their security clearance eligibility.

The FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit is a one-stop shop for messages and materials to strengthen local engagement. It contains posters, digital graphics, sharable facts, social media messages, plan of the week notes, event ideas and other materials that can be used in September and throughout the new fiscal year. As one of the most popular tools in each year’s toolkit, the new 30 Days of Small ACTs calendar features simple ways for Sailors to be there for themselves and others. It offers a practical tip each day, helping Sailors build positive coping mechanisms and self-care into their routines, such as mindfulness, journaling, and starting conversations with others. You can print and display this calendar in high-traffic areas and even repurpose daily tips as Plan of the Day notes. Or give Sailors a chance at some friendly competition by hosting a 30 Days of Small ACTs challenge that pushes them to engage in as many small ACTs as possible during the month.

The tools in this toolkit—along with popular existing Every Sailor, Every Day materials—are not only helpful resources for Suicide Prevention Month but can be used to continue dialogue and engagement throughout the year. Use the campaign’s “Sailor’s on the Street” YouTube videos as icebreakers for small group discussions on healthy stress navigation. Plan group physical fitness activities like a fun run or yoga class to help Sailors beat stress head-on. And, of course, pair these activities with useful information and resources on social media. Work with your command and/or installation public affairs office to promote Suicide Prevention Month and ongoing Every Sailor, Every Day content on social media using the #1SmallACT hashtag.

Stay connected with Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s ESED campaign throughout the year. Access resources on www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > Get Involved, and find useful tips for navigating stress on our blog.  Follow us on social media on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to tag us in your social media posts about your local events and activities.

1 Small ACT can make a difference. Be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

 

 

Connect and Learn Online this Suicide Prevention Month

2018 Webinar Blog Photo

Each September during Suicide Prevention Month, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s (OPNAV N171) Every Sailor, Every Day (ESED) campaign releases new resources to empower conversations about psychological health, encourage Sailors to recognize risk among their shipmates and themselves, and motivate Small ACTs to prevent suicide. This year, in addition to introducing new educational materials in the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit, ESED will offer learning opportunities for Navy gatekeepers, leaders, command resilience team (CRT) members and families.

Start off 2018 Suicide Prevention Month with Navy Suicide Prevention Branch and Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s (NMCPHC) Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department who will be co-hosting a webinar entitled “Your ACTions Could Save a Life: 3 Ways to #BeThere for Every Sailor, Every Day.” Join us September 6, 2018 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT to explore current and emerging best practices in suicide prevention and findings from recent Navy suicide “Deep Dives.” This discussion will equip Navy leaders, health promotion coordinators, suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs), and the gatekeepers who most frequently encounter at-risk Sailors (e.g., legal staff, school house instructors and housing staff) with the tools to:

  • Identify challenges that Sailors may be encountering and recognize risk factors to provide interventions;
  • Cultivate a climate that encourages help-seeking and facilitates connections to needed psychological health resources; and
  • Promote a safe and consistent suicide prevention narrative that utilizes evidence-informed messaging and materials for local engagement.

Register for the webinar by August 31, 2018 at https://survey.max.gov/933674. You must have a Common Access Card (CAC) to register. To learn more, visit the HPW Webinars page or click here to email NMCPHC with any questions that you may have about the webinar.

End the month with U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control’s first Twitter chat; a perfect opportunity to learn more ways to recognize risk and be there for Every Sailor, Every Day. #ACT2PreventSuicide will focus on how to apply and operationalize ACT day-to-day and create discussions on:

  • Recognizing warning signs and risk factors in daily interactions, including those that take place on social media;
  • Tips to start the conversation with someone who may be at risk or displaying warning signs;
  • How and where to reach out for help for yourself or others; and
  • How to fit Small ACTs of self-care into hectic schedules.

The Twitter chat will be hosted by @NavStress on September 27, 2018 at 2 p.m. EDT. It is ideal for all audiences, including Navy family members, SPCs, gatekeepers, military health organizations and others that serve the Navy community. To participate, login to your Twitter account at the above day and time, and search #ACT2PreventSuicide. Include the hashtag in your questions and responses. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to learn more about the webinar and join the conversation on September 27.

Suicide Prevention Month is right around the corner. To get a head start on your command’s local efforts, visit www.suicide.navy.mil > Every Sailor, Every Day > Get Involved. Additional articles and useful tips will be shared throughout the month and upcoming fiscal year on our blog, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Suicide Prevention Resources for Military Families

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Suicide is a national health problem that is preventable. Its prevention is of special concern to the military community because active-duty service members and veterans account for approximately 20-22 percent of all deaths from suicide in the United States.

Use the information below to learn how to recognize suicide risk. With this knowledge, you can help your loved one get the care and support that he or she needs.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide

Service members and veterans face many stressors that can increase their risk for suicide. Risk factors include both combat and peacetime challenges, like traumatic experiences and frequent moves. Left unaddressed, stressors can become overwhelming. Service members and veterans may be more vulnerable to substance use disorders and mood disorders because of high levels of stress. Both disorders are associated with military suicide. Other stressors that increase suicide risk include relationship problems, work problems and disciplinary or legal issues.

Some behaviors may be warning signs that indicate a warrior is at high risk for suicide. If any of the following are impacting your warrior’s daily life—or are new, persistent or worsening—you should encourage your warrior to get help right away.

  • Talking or writing about self-harm, suicide or death
  • Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or society
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Engaging in risky or reckless behaviors
  • Experiencing rage or excessive anger
  • Expressing anxiety, agitation or hopelessness
  • Showing dramatic changes in mood

How to Get Help for Your Loved One

Each service has a suicide prevention program that involves observation, dialogue, support and action. Examples include the Army’s “ACE: Ask, Care, Escort” and the Navy’s “ACT: Ask, Care, Treat.” You can use any of these approaches to help a service member or veteran. It is most important to recognize when a warrior is in crisis. Then talk to that warrior, provide support and get help to prevent suicide.

If you think someone is at risk, you can:

  • Ask the person if he or she is thinking about suicide. Be caring, but direct.
  • Call 911 if they are an immediate danger to themselves or those around them.
  • Remove weapons, drugs or other dangerous items from their environment.
  • Stay with the person in crisis until help arrives.
    • If you are on the phone with a person in crisis, stay on the line with that person and use another phone to call 911.

If you or a warrior you know needs help, there are many resources available including:

Service-Specific Suicide Prevention Programs and Resources

Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.