Tag Archives: Psychological Fitness

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

Connect and Learn Online this Suicide Prevention Month

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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.

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 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.