New Documentary Reveals Link Between Poverty and Mental Health, Humanizes Victims

the bridge

Image courtesy of The Guidance Center.

In an effort to highlight the effects of poverty on mental health and humanize the victims of the poverty cycle, The Art Theatre in Long Beach will screen the debut of the documentary The Bridge: Pathways to a Trauma-Informed Community on Wednesday, April 26, free to the public.

Produced by The Guidance Center, a local agency that provides mental health resources to children, and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Matthew Murray, the film focuses on how a trauma-informed community can help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

“It’s not necessarily poverty that causes trauma; it’s the anxiety, chaos and uncertainty that comes with being poor,” Patricia Costales, a licensed social worker and CEO of The Guidance Center, said in statement. “That kid is not a bad kid. That kid is doing the best they can in really horrific circumstances. We might not be able to change their poverty circumstances, but if we can create those safe relationships and a different understanding of their circumstances then maybe it doesn’t have to have a catastrophic impact. That kid may be poor but is better regulated, and is able to go to school and learn. Because if that kid can learn, that kid can succeed.”


Ongoing trauma causes the brain to be in a constant state of stress, officials said, and can prohibit children from controlling their impulses, learning in a traditional classroom setting and cause physical health problems. Living in poverty often goes hand-in-hand with housing instability, food insecurity and inadequate access to resources.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, many children who grow up in these conditions lack the security needed for healthy emotional development.

Filmed in Long Beach and Catalina Island, the documentary features interviews with community leaders, including Mayor Robert Garcia, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna and Director of the Department of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy, and former clients of The Guidance Center. Additionally, school officials and medical experts from Catalina Island reveal the problem of intergenerational poverty that persists on the island.

According to City Data, in 2015, 27.9 percent of children in Long Beach lived below the poverty line. That same year, the poverty rate for the state was 20.2 percent. Similarly, Catalina Island has a higher percentage of children experiencing poverty than the general population, according to the United States Census Bureau.

The poverty threshold in California is $30,000 a year for a family of four, as reported by a 2014 Public Policy Institute of California study.

Officials from The Guidance Center said that the goal of the documentary is to humanize the facts, turn numbers into faces and aid community members in seeing those in poverty through a trauma-informed lense.

The idea for the documentary came to Costales in 2014, who had concerns over the growing number of children who required mental health services. Costales collaborated with local organizations and officials to shed light on and prevent others from experiencing mental health issues caused by poverty and violence.

“I knew that once we were able to help the children on the waiting list there would still be others after them in need of the same services,” said Costales. “That caused me to consider how much more effective we could be in helping these children if we thought of their school, their neighborhood or their community as the client. This documentary is one piece of how we’re broadening our focus and empowering community members through trauma-informed education to help make a difference in their schools, neighborhoods or workplaces.”

Following the film, there will be a panel discussion moderated by Costales with Luna, Colopy, Assistant Superintendent of School Support Services for the Long Beach Unified School District Tiffany Brown, CEO of The Children’s Clinic and Nathan Swaringer, a clinical therapist at The Guidance Center.

Wednesday’s screening for The Bridge: Pathways to a Trauma-Informed Community begins at 6:00PM. The event is free, but seating is limited. To reserve seats, click here.

The Art Theatre is located at 2025 East Fourth Street.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.