Tag Archives: psycological health

Security Clearances and Mental Health—Part 2: Q21 on SF86

FB_504x504_SF86_v3-03

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

FB_504x504_SF86_v1-02 (003)

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

The Sabotage of the Imposter Phenomenon

Imposter_Syndrome_Blog_Picture

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

Unplugging from social media for psych health blog pic

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.

3 Ways to Take ACTion this Suicide Prevention Month

#BeThe1To_Ask_Graphic

Suicide Prevention Month is an opportunity to reenergize the conversation and set a positive tone for the upcoming fiscal year. Here are three meaningful ways to build community, strengthen protective factors and demonstrate your command’s commitment to suicide prevention:

Connect with your shipmates. Use this month to find everyday ways to make a difference to others. Bringing a shipmate a cup of coffee or sharing a meal together may seem small, but they can have a huge impact when someone is feeling disconnected. These are also opportunities to check in on your shipmate and offer a listening ear. Pay attention to cues that may be warning signs of a crisis, like indicating that they feel like they’re trapped by their current circumstances; are more agitated, angry or anxious than usual; are drinking more alcohol than usual, etc. If you hear these or other concerns, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat). Start by asking if they’re thinking about killing themselves. Listen closely and let your shipmate know you care about their well-being and are concerned for their safety. Get your shipmate to someone who can help: a Navy chaplain, provider or call the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK, press 1). Don’t leave your shipmate alone and remind them that you will be there to support them throughout their recovery process. Check out BeThe1To.com for additional tips to help someone in crisis.

Get Moving, Together. Exercise strengthens our physical and psychological health, and can boost connection with others; protective factors against suicide. Organize a 5K walk or run aboard your ship or installation in support of suicide prevention and Total Sailor Fitness. Include stations along the route to educate and motivate participants, like a trivia table staffed by the command SPC, health promotion coordinator, drug and alcohol program adviser (DAPA) or other personnel. Use the information in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit to develop questions related to self-care, stress zones, suicide risk and protective factors, and offer incentives to those who participate. You can also set up a Small ACT Selfie station stocked with printed signs and markers. Snap a photo of participants holding their completed signs and email them to navysuicideprevention@gmail.com for inclusion in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Following the event, collect the signs and post them throughout high-traffic areas in your command to serve as reminders of the simple ways to be there for others and support your own psychological health.

Share Stories of Hope and Recovery. We are all influencing the conversation about stress and suicide and have the power to reshape negative perceptions. Less than one percent of security clearances are revoked or denied because of psychological health reasons. Real-life stories of those who have sought help for psychological health concerns and have gone on to live healthy and productive lives can be powerful reminders that help works. Make the Connection offers testimonial videos featuring service members and veterans that you can share on social media or play during a small group discussion, such as this veteran describing how he got through tough times with support from friends and family. You can also view and share the story of PRC Jeromy Kelsey (Ret.) from the NavStress YouTube page. Be sure to brush up on how to safely communicate about suicide by checking out the tips in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Every Sailor, Every Day starts with US. For additional ways to make a difference and lead by example, download the 30 Days of Small ACTs calendar and share it with your shipmates.