Mental health is a topic rarely talked about in law enforcement communities, but Sony Pictures TV and CBS have found a way to chip away at the stigma with a special episode of the hit show S.W.A.T.
The show, which focuses on a Los Angeles-based Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit, has enjoyed critical and commercial success -- something co-creator Shawn Ryan realized could be utilized for a positive cause.
"There’s an idea that we expect these men and women to protect us, but when it comes to mental health they often seem unprotected themselves," Ryan told Campaign US.
"There is a culture that says it’s unmanly to seek mental health help, while these officers are seeing such triggering things in the field."
According to advocacy Blue H.E.L.P., there has been a dramatic increase in the number of deaths by suicide among current or retired police officers.
Ryan knew that he could do something to lower that number.
"This is an atypical episode for us. We made mental health the focus of the story rather than the police work, while it’s usually the other way around," he said.
And seeing as how mental health issues are not normally the focus of the show, there was some serious research to be done.
"We had a writer on the show that we assigned to do some research, and he came across a number of different organizations specializing in this topic. From there we conducted intensive interviews with those in the law enforcement community. We started asking questions about what these officers go through, and how they would want that to be portrayed, what we should avoid, and what questions a trained officer would ask or what they would say," Ryan explained.
"We’re always doing research and talking to officers, and while this is entertainment and there are always going to be unrealistic aspects to it, we wanted to get this right."
In addition to the show’s plotline itself, digital versions of the episode will run with a 45 second long PSA featuring the show’s cast that will go talk more explicitly about the themes explored, as well as what to do if you or someone you love are, feeling thoughts of self-harm.