Category Archives: Suicide Prevention

#BeThere For The Holidays

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According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, it is a commonly-held misconception that suicides increase over the holidays. This is not the case. However, the holidays are an ideal time to strengthen your connections with shipmates and loved ones – a protective factor against suicide. Whether catching up via phone, social media or at a holiday gathering, pay attention to the subtle signs that may indicate someone is having difficulty navigating stress. Those signs may include expressing feelings of hopelessness or burdensomeness, increased substance use, withdrawal from usual activities and sudden mood changes. Even if it seems like they’re joking or being casual, if something seems out of the norm trust your gut and ACT (Ask Care Treat).

ACT is Navy’s call-to-action to encourage early intervention when a Sailor is experiencing difficulty navigating stress or may be at risk for suicide. All Sailors and members of the Navy community should be able to recognize the risk factors and warning signs that indicate a potential suicidal crisis, and should feel confident in their ability to ACT:

  • Ask – Ask directly: are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Care – Listen without judgment. Show that you care.
  • Treat – Get the Sailor immediate assistance. Escort him or her to the nearest chaplain, trusted leader or medical professional for treatment.

Annual case reviews consistently reveal missed opportunities to “connect the dots” when a Sailor is experiencing the negative effects of stress, psychological health concerns or exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior. Active communication and ongoing dialogue about stress, psychological health and suicide can motivate positive action and open the door for help.

While the holiday season may be a busy time, remember that 1 Small ACT can make a difference. In addition to knowing the signs and when to intervene, encourage Sailors to get ahead of stress by practicing self-care this season, like eating a balanced diet, making time for exercise and getting adequate sleep. Like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @navstress on Twitter for healthy holiday tips from the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

“I have a clearance…and I stepped up and said ‘hey, I need some help’”

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Submitted by Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention’s Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign and Navy Suicide Prevention Branch’s Every Sailor, Every Day Campaign.

Throughout her 15-year career in the Navy, Intelligence Specialist Chief Amber Nuanez has been a constant source of support and mentorship to her Sailors. Above all of her personal accomplishments, she’s most proud to have contributed to others’ growth and development. Of course, her passion and dedication to her career has not come without sacrifice; particularly when it comes to being able to spend time with her young children despite long hours and deployments.  In the Keep What You’ve Earned (KWYE) campaign’s newest testimonial public service announcement (PSA), Nuanez admits feeling like she’s struggled with work and family life balance. But it’s her commitment to her children and her Sailors that led her to find the courage to seek help when she realized she was struggling with her mental and behavioral health.

Seeking Help vs. Career Concerns

Nuanez was concerned about how reaching out for help could affect her security clearance and ability to maintain her career in the intelligence community. Yet, she pressed forward recognizing that she was the one that now needed support and that help was always available. Nuanez not only sought help for mental health concerns, but a few months later self-referred for alcohol misuse treatment. She got the support she needed, enabling her to be an even stronger source of inspiration for her kids and Sailors. She now serves as both a Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) and Suicide Prevention Coordinator (SPC) for her current command.

Addressing mental and behavioral health needs is essential to maintaining personal and mission readiness, and your ability to be there for others. However, concerns about career implications may lead to apprehension about seeking help. You may wonder “How will leadership view me afterwards? What about my job or security clearance?” The truth is that there are DoD-level policy protections in place to help prevent negative career impacts for those who seek proactive help. In fact, less than one percent of security clearance denials or revocations involve mental health concerns or behavioral health support. Whether through your local Fleet & Family Support Center, Navy chaplain or medical provider, Military OneSource non-medical counseling or the many other resources available to Sailors and families, seeking help is a sign of strength. Further, it’s an indicator of the good judgment and reliability needed to maintain a security clearance.

Self-Referring for Alcohol Use

The process of proactively seeking help for alcohol use issues in the Navy is called self-referral. If done before an alcohol incident (AI) has occurred, self-referring for alcohol use treatment through your command does not result in disciplinary action. Initiating a self-referral means that a Sailor wants to receive counseling or treatment for alcohol abuse. “That treatment was really awesome because they focus on the ‘why’ of your drinking habits,” Nuanez shared. “If I hadn’t have had the [self-referral] program and SARP [Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program], I don’t know where I’d be.”

To initiate a self-referral and begin your journey to recovery, speak with a qualified agent, such as:

  • Command DAPA
  • Commanding officer, executive officer, officer in charge, command master chief or chief of the boat
  • Navy drug and alcohol counselor or intern
  • DOD medical provider (including a Licensed Independent Provider)
  • Chaplain
  • Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) counselor

1 Small ACT Can Make a Difference

While fear of reaching out can be overwhelming, 1 Small ACT can make a career or life-saving difference. Seeking help is the best thing you can do for yourself, your family and your Navy career if navigating mental or behavioral health concerns. In addition to the support resources mentioned above, if you or someone you know is in immediate crisis you can reach out to the Military Crisis Line online, by phone at 1-800-273-8255 or by text at 838255.

Help encourage others to reach out for support by sharing this blog post and ISC Nuanez’s Keep What You’ve Earned campaign testimonial video, which will be available on Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention’s YouTube channel this month. For more resources to help you keep what you’ve earned, visit https://go.usa.gov/xPKzq or download the Pier Pressure mobile application from the App Store or Google Play for access to responsible drinking tools and information on Navy’s self-referral process.

Additionally, you can share the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s latest graphics and posters on seeking help and security clearances, available at https://go.usa.gov/xPKzT.

 

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.