Mental Health and Career Prospects
August 18, 2011 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Will a mental health diagnosis preclude me from entering certain careers in the field of engineering?

I just recently visited a Licensed Mental Health Counselor for the first time today. During our first session he concluded that I probably have Dysthymia, a form of depression.

With this came a few procedural caveats. He said that if we were to continue our sessions, he would need to provide my insurance company with a diagnosis so I could still be eligible for the small copay.

He also advised me that such a diagnosis and subsequent treatment can cause problems down the line in terms of being considered for certain careers, most notably ones requiring security clearance. I'm currently a first year engineering student. I have a fair bit of time before I decide what type of engineering. Likely mechanical. The point is that I don't want to close any doors for myself in the future just because I've taken steps to resolve what has been a lifelong problem for me.

If you're reading this, have you faced any road blocks in your professional growth due to such circumstances? Know anybody who has? Is this something really worth worrying about?

Thanks for your time.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Seems like the risk-of-not-treating-depression is much larger than the risk-of-missing-a-career-you-haven't-chosen-yet. It beats it to pieces.

This is not even a close debate. Treat the problem you have now. Future careers need you to be mentally focused.
posted by Murray M at 2:21 AM on August 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you have a problem, hiding it is not going to make it go away. I doubt that, during the investigation for a security clearance, they will miss this fact simply because you some how manage to keep it off this record. So, that career track is not for you in-your-current-state anyway. If you address the problem and make progress, perhaps that will be viewed positively.

First, make sure that the diagnosis is correct. I'd get a second opinion. Then, if it is correct, take action to fix it. Never mind the hypothetical future; there are many career paths; all very rewarding.
posted by curiousZ at 2:36 AM on August 18, 2011

There are a lot of things to do in engineering that do not require a security clearance. Like, a lot. And mechanical is a great degree you can do tons of stuff that does not require a security clearance. I've worked for 5 companies in a mechanical engineering capacity, and none of them required I have a security clearance.

My husband is a mechanical engineer who works directly for the gov't. I'll ask him what his impression is regarding the reality of such a diagnosis getting in your way.
posted by chiefthe at 2:56 AM on August 18, 2011

From the security clearance adjudication guidelines:

27. The Concern. Certain emotional, mental, and personality conditions can impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness. A formal diagnosis of a disorder is not required for there to be a concern under this guideline. A duly qualified mental health professional (e.g., clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government, should be consulted when evaluating potentially disqualifying and mitigating information under this guideline. No negative inference concerning the standards in this Guideline may be raised solely on the basis of seeking mental health counseling.

28. Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:

(a) behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness that is not covered under any other guideline, including but not limited to emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre behavior;

(b) an opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that the individual has a condition not covered under any other guideline that may impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness;

(c) the individual has failed to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition, e.g. failure to take prescribed medication.

29. Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:

(a) the identified condition is readily controllable with treatment, and the individual has demonstrated ongoing and consistent compliance with the treatment plan;

(b) the individual has voluntarily entered a counseling or treatment program for a condition that is amenable to treatment, and the individual is currently receiving counseling or treatment with a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified mental health professional;

(c) recent opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government that an individual's previous condition is under control or in remission, and has a low probability of recurrence or exacerbation;

(d) the past emotional instability was a temporary condition (e.g., one caused by a death, illness, or marital breakup), the situation has been resolved, and the individual no longer shows indications of emotional instability;

(e) there is no indication of a current problem.


It is my understanding that something like this will make your security clearance take a longer, but should not bar you from receiving a clearance. You would need to let investigators speak to your LMHC and see your records though.

The only case I personally know of where someone was denied clearance for mental health issues involved temporary voluntary institutionalization and a significantly more serious mental condition.

I would not let this stop you from getting some treatment now.
posted by pseudonick at 3:20 AM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

What diagnosis would he choose? Some are the technical version of "having some trouble adjusting to a new situation." Those temporary diagnoses often will let you be covered for a shorter amount of time than others, but at least that'd get you started.
posted by salvia at 3:22 AM on August 18, 2011

If it were me, I would pay for it out of pocket or ask my parents to pay for it. Eliminating uncertainty is good.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:26 AM on August 18, 2011

re: By the Grace of God

Not disclosing having received treatment would probably be a worse move than acknowledging it. Either way it is a long way off, it may never be an issue, and even if it became an issue I don't suspect it would be a serious issue.

If you wanted reassurance the former adjudicators at offer a confidential $50 question answering service. I'd bet cash money they could tell you from experience that having minor depression that you are proactively dealing with would not stop you from getting a clearance.
posted by pseudonick at 3:42 AM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

It is already too late from the point of view of the security clearance questions - you have to disclose diagnoses even if your insurance company never finds out.

Just get the help you need.
posted by SMPA at 3:46 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Onthe paper trail end, ask what diagnosis the therapist is going to use---and see if it can be "adjustment disorder" --- depression isn't automatiically going to put a security clearance in jeapardy, is my understanding, but most people with concerns will ask for an adjustment disorder diagnosis.

Basically, no one can just be having a tough time anymore. Insurance companies wont pay to help people who are just struggling.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:56 AM on August 18, 2011

I work at a small defense contractor making really sweet robots and none of our engineers even had security clearances until starting a year or two ago. A majority of them still don't because they work on non-classified projects. Don't worry about it -- even if it *is* an issue for a clearance, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't work at a defense contractor.
posted by olinerd at 4:05 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a good friend who works for a major defense contractor and has some kind of clearance - I think Secret - and his mental health problems are a lot more complex than dysthymia. They stop short of hospitalization, but therapy of one kind or another since high school and multiple medications. It's just anecdata, but it's probably closer to what pseudonick describes as being something that might make the people doing it fill out another flowsheet of questions than anything actually barring.

Dysthymia is pretty low on the scale of depressions and I'd personally be more put off by his warnings and one-meeting diagnosis, but that's my opinion as someone with the same Dx. (which I only found out when I had to make some phone calls to try to get my therapy covered under a new insurance company.)
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 4:21 AM on August 18, 2011

I know multiple people with secret or top secret clearance and depression, and your therapist appearance wildly ignorant of the clearance process.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nearly half of the workforce are mentally ill in some way. Yea, it's not likely to affect you getting a job. Workforce probably needs more depressed people to bring some creativity to the game.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 5:38 AM on August 18, 2011

it would not hurt you from obtaining a secret clearance, and probably not even a Top Secret, a Secret clearance is basically and employment and credit check, a TS goes into more depth, and most of your background/friends/family,

anything above a TS, like TS with Poly or TS-SCI, etc... it would probably come up, and might take some time... i think the most important thing is to be honest about it with the investigator... if you are open and honest about it, it probably won't be a problem, but if you are hiding it from people, it could be used against you for blackmail, etc...
posted by fozzie33 at 6:20 AM on August 18, 2011

A diagnosis might not let you enlist or receive an officer's commission in the military but check with a recruiter if serving is a remote possibility.
posted by dlwr300 at 10:08 AM on August 18, 2011

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