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Security clearance questions on mental health status – be careful

April 17, 2013

Words are so important, never more so than when considering mental health status. You likely have heard by now that the Obama administration is thinking about rewording the standard mental-health question on security clearance applications. Instead of the current question about whether or not someone has received  professional treatment or hospitalization for “an emotional or mental health condition,” those seeking or renewing clearance instead would be asked the proposed new question – if “you had a mental health condition that would cause an objective observer to have concern about your judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness in relation to your work?” The proposed form goes on to add that “Evidence of such a condition could include exhibiting behavior that was emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre; receiving an opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that you had a condition that might impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness; or failing to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition (e.g., failure to take prescribed medication). These examples are merely illustrative. Merely consulting a mental health professional is not, standing alone, evidence of such a condition.”

Oh man, personally, this is the kind of long, multi-stemmed question that killed me on the SAT’s. We are talking about a whole lot more than 50 shades of grey with a question like this. And just think of the myriad of interpretations that could be garnered by the people reviewing the application. This feels like quicksand folks.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

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