Mental Health and Security Clearances: Debunking Myths and Stigmas

November 30, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

We are in the middle of a nationwide mental health crisis as more Americans than ever are experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Of course, federal workers and contractors are not exempt, even those who hold security clearances. In fact, many security clearance holders are veterans who are especially at risk of suffering from PTSD and other disorders. Unfortunately, many clearance holders are afraid to disclose their mental health issues or seek the treatment they need. If you are struggling with your mental health and are not sure what to do, a federal security clearance attorney can help you find a way forward. 

Common Stigmas Related to Mental Health

The relationship between mental health and fitness to perform on the job is given greater scrutiny when it comes to workers who hold security clearances. Security clearance holders often work in high-stress environments and deal with difficult problems. They are unable to share details about their jobs with people in their personal lives and even many of their colleagues. This can leave many people who have security clearances feeling isolated with no one they can talk to. 

For many years, clearance holders were required to report any mental health counseling that they had received. The rationale behind this rule was that mental health affected a holder’s perception of any given situation and impacted their ability to respond appropriately. There were also concerns that a mental health condition would affect the holder’s ability to manage stress and make important decisions. Mental health was considered a root cause in some of the most serious security breaches. In short, the common belief was that mental health conditions rendered security clearance holders unreliable and unable to be trusted. 

As a result, clearance holders were effectively prohibited from seeking the treatment they needed or even acknowledging to themselves that they were suffering from a mental illness. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. 

An Important Update to Security Clearance Regulations

In 2016, SF-86 was updated, and the requirement that clearance holders disclose any mental health counseling was removed. Clearance holders are now required to disclose mental health conditions that would “substantially adversely affect their judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness.” In addition to changing the disclosure requirements, language was added to emphasize that receiving treatment for a mental health condition would not be, in and of itself a security clearance would be denied or revoked. In fact, the language went even further to note that seeking treatment and working on recovery may contribute favorably to any decisions made about the worker’s eligibility. 

As a result of these changes, the stigmas surrounding mental health conditions and their impact on security clearance eligibility are beginning to dissipate. However, many applicants and security clearance holders are still worried about how it could impact their clearance. It is important to keep in mind that failure to disclose pertinent information could be considered dishonesty for security clearance purposes. While the changes to SF-86 were much needed, it can be unclear as to whether an applicant or holder has an obligation to disclose certain mental health conditions. Workers who are unsure of what to do should seek guidance from a federal security clearance attorney rather than potentially jeopardize their careers.  

Seeking Treatment Will Not Render You Ineligible for a Security Clearance 

It is worth emphasizing that seeking treatment for a mental health condition will not render you ineligible for a security clearance. If you are struggling, your first priority should be to get the help you need. 

While your clearance will not be denied or revoked based solely on the fact that you sought treatment, you may still need to disclose it and it may raise concerns. Depending on the nature of the issue, an investigator may request your medical records and you may be asked to participate in an independent psychological evaluation. 

There is no debate that there has been a great deal of progress when it comes to mental health concerns for security clearance holders and applicants. That said, there is a lack of transparency when it comes to what may or may not disqualify a particular worker from holding a security clearance. If you have questions, the best thing to do is seek guidance from a federal security clearance attorney. 

Talk with a Federal Security Clearance Attorney at the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford Today

Mental health is no longer stigmatized like it once was, but security holders and applicants still face challenges. A federal security clearance attorney can help you navigate the clearance process and answer whatever questions you have along the way. Contact us today at 410-514-6099 to schedule a consultation.