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'S.W.A.T.' Star Alex Russell On Mental Health Ahead Of Poignant New Episode: 'You Have Support And Connection Is Available'

 S.W.A.T. returns with an all-new episode titled "Stigma" tonight at 10:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. In this very special episode, the team tackles mental health, particularly within law enforcement.

CBS Local's Matt Weiss spoke to series star Alex Russell about tonight's episode and the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.

MW: Hi Alex, nice to speak to you, we're here today to talk about a very poignant episode of S.W.A.T. that touches on some really important issues, can you talk about what this episode means to you ?

AR: What the episode means to me is, first of all it's an episode dedicated to shining a light on police suicide, suicide and mental health in general, but particularly in relation to law enforcement and what typically our officers are exposed to and have to go through and taking care of their mental health. For me, it is personal to me. I think a lot of people find themselves in that situation. It's a sliding scale, I think that most people deal with issues with their mental health at some point somewhere on the sliding scale. I think that it's so much more common than many people realize and someone who is right at the far end of that, who is contemplating suicide, who is having these dark thoughts, people don't realize how widespread this is, they feel like it's just them.

I've definitely dealt with my own mental health issues; I've dealt with anxiety. It's personal to me and one of the biggest things I've discovered over time is understanding the problem, understanding that it's something that most people are susceptible to, to some degree. That right there is your biggest strength and for me it's the biggest thing for combating it. When I talk to someone else who's going through it, I'll tell them from personal experience. You have to understand what you're dealing with and what you're dealing with isn't your fault and it's something that many or most people deal with to some degree. So, that's how it kind of was for me personally, but here we're looking at specifically mental health in law enforcement in this episode as well. 

MW: When I saw the description of the episode as someone who has friends and loved ones who struggle with mental health and I also have a lot friends and loved ones who are police officers, I'm aware of what of an issue suicide among police officers is. I think it's great S.W.A.T. is shining a light on the subject and you're also partnering with the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, could you talk a little about your work with them as well? 

AR: Yes. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been incredibly helpful, the episode was developed with their aid. We also made a PSA that we're going to release with the episode in conjunction with them. It is very, very, important to us to be able to let people feel that there's a strength, that there's ultimate strength in reaching out, in calling the lifeline, in telling a friend, in expressing this. Especially among men and then especially among men in law enforcement, there is such a stigma. The name of the episode is "Stigma" because that's what we're trying to eradicate. This stigma that it is weak to ask for help, that it is weak to show signs of depression or anxiety or dark feelings or emotions; it's the strongest thing you can do.

It has to be the strongest thing because it's the thing that we're terrified of doing, which is to reach out to someone, but on the other end of that call or that reaching out, we just want to remind people there is absolute support and that move of strength that you can make, is the first step towards overcoming this thing. There is zero weakness in that. That's something we're really trying to emphasize. 

MW: A lot of times with people there is that stigma. People feel like 'I should be able to handle this on my own' and they can't and that only enhances the downward spiral.

AR: Absolutely, 'I should be able to handle this on my own,' is something that has just been passed down from eons, it's passed down from a time long ago when we didn't know what this was. It's archaic, it has no place in modern society. We know better now. We are trying to assure the lack of judgement. There is nothing to judge, it is something that is widespread, it is definitely something that touches everyone in serious way, if not personally then someone you know, that's how widespread it is. Trying to reemphasize the lack of judgement and the admiration for I or anyone who is willing to be vulnerable in that moment. It's the strongest thing you can do. 

MW: Last question before I let you go here. Mental health, particularly now with everything going on is heightened even more with the average person. What does it mean to you to bring not only some entertainment for people who are stuck at home but to shed a light on this issue that is particularly hitting home for a lot of people? 

AR: It's funny you say that, it is timely. I've noticed myself, my anxiety, I usually find these days I navigate pretty well, it's definitely ramped up a little bit from being stuck in the house. So that's something that I've been navigating each day. What helps me so much is myself awareness, is the amount of attention I can place on it knowing exactly what it is.

I do think it is kind of ironic that we're doing it at this time. But I would emphasize again even during this period where we can't physically be together, and we can't come within six feet of each other and we're stuck in our houses, we are still so connected. A friend or National Suicide Lifeline or Blue H.E.L.P. or any of these organizations, they are there and they are put in place for a reason.

On the other end of that call to them or to a friend, even if you're stuck in your house right now, people are there. We are there and you have support and connection is available. It's a phone call away. 

MW: Well again, I'm so proud of the work you've all done with this and all the best moving forward. Stay safe!

AR: Thank you, you too, stay safe!

Tune in tonight for an all-new S.W.A.T. at 10:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.

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