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Clinton to State employees: Seek mental health help if you need it

Following calls by the State Department Inspector General’s office to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and stress treatment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on employees to seek help without fear of retribution. "Seeking help is a sign of responsibility and it is not a threat to your security clearance," Clinton wrote in ...

Following calls by the State Department Inspector General's office to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and stress treatment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on employees to seek help without fear of retribution.

Following calls by the State Department Inspector General’s office to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and stress treatment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on employees to seek help without fear of retribution.

"Seeking help is a sign of responsibility and it is not a threat to your security clearance," Clinton wrote in an e-mail sent to all State employees Sept. 7. "No one at State has lost a clearance because he or she sought mental health counseling or treatment. In fact, Diplomatic Security has advised that receiving recommended treatment for mental health concerns is a favorable factor during security clearance determinations. For all of us, managing our mental health is an essential part of maintaining our well-being, and recognizing the need for help is a sign of maturity and professionalism. Talking to someone can make all the difference in the world."

In a July report, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that mental health services for employees returning from high-stress or high-threat postings was improving, but that there was still a stigma attached to employees seeking help. The OIG called on State to issue a high-level statement encouraging returning diplomats to use the mental health tools at their disposal. With Clinton’s e-mail, it appears that advice has been heeded.

There are about 800 State Department employees currently deployed in high-stress or high-threat environments, according to the report.

State has been ramping up its efforts to provide mental health support to its employees. In 2009, it created a Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) in the Office of Medical Services (MED) and has increased the number of mental health-care professionals at the ready. There is also a consultation and interview process, known as the High Stress Assignment Outbrief, for Foreign Service officers when they get back from the field. However, less than 60 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan go through it and, for other high-stress postings, the usage rate is much lower.

There are more social workers and psychiatrists than ever at the U.S. embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, but according to the OIG it is unclear whether there are enough.

Clinton touted the outbrief program in her e-mail but aimed her message at all State Department and USAID employees, not just those returning from a hazardous environment.

"I know that your service here comes with sacrifice, both for you and your families, and with unique stresses," she wrote. "We are committed to ensuring that every member of the State Department and USAID family has all the support they need. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to provide access to social workers and mental health counselors, a mandatory high-stress outbrief program and training for anyone who seeks it and particularly for those who are returning from or working with returnees from high-stress posts."

Read the entire note after the jump:

 

THE SECRETARY OF STATE

WASHINGTON

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

As the summer winds down, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your hard work, commitment to excellence, and service to our country. At the State Department and USAID, we work long hours on complex problems with few clear-cut solutions. Many of you serve in dangerous and remote posts, often far away from friends and loved ones. Your dedication is inspiring, and you have my gratitude and that of President Obama and the American people as well.

I know that your service here comes with sacrifice, both for you and your families, and with unique stresses. We are committed to ensuring that every member of the State Department and USAID family has all the support they need. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to provide access to social workers and mental health counselors, a mandatory high-stress outbrief program and training for anyone who seeks it and particularly for those who are returning from or working with returnees from high-stress posts.

These are important resources and I hope more of you will take advantage of them in the future.

Seeking help is a sign of responsibility and it is not a threat to your security clearance. No one at State has lost a clearance because he or she sought mental health counseling or treatment. In fact, Diplomatic Security has advised that receiving recommended treatment for mental health concerns is a favorable factor during security clearance determinations. For all of us, managing our mental health is an essential part of maintaining our well-being, and recognizing the need for help is a sign of maturity and professionalism. Talking to someone can make all the difference in the world.

To learn more about the Department’s Deployment Stress Management Program and the resources available to you and your family through the State Department, I encourage you to visit MED’s website at:

If you have questions about security clearances, you can always contact the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability Customer Service Center at 1-866-643-4636 or send an e-mail to   

As we head into the fall and the holidays to come, please consider making use of the excellent programs and staff that are available.

We have a lot to do, and I know you are up to the job. I am proud of the work we are doing together every day on behalf of our nation. It is an honor to be your Secretary and I look forward to all we will continue to achieve together.

Sincerely yours,

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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