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Security clearances and mental health—Part 1: Judgment matters

In this two-part series, HPRC unpacks myths about the impact of mental health care on security clearances. Learn how good judgment and your response on question 21 on the SF86 are what really matters when it comes to clearance status.

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.

Part 2  of this series clarifies question 21 on the SF86 security clearance application.

Posted 01 May 2017