A film being screened in Philadelphia paints a clear picture of the unaddressed trauma that perpetuates the cycle of gun violence, and urges residents to seek out the help they need.
“TRIGGER” offers Philadelphia audiences a look at the raw experiences of people directly affected by shootings — those who’ve lost a loved one to gunfire, those who’ve survived bullet wounds, and those who’ve fired the gun.
The film is a partnership between the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and DisAbility Services and First Person Arts. Starting Sunday, Feb. 26, the city plans to hold a series of public screenings in neighborhoods with high levels of violence and low levels of mental health services.
Gabriel Bryant, DBHIDS community engagement equity manager, said the goal is to “blanket the city with trauma support” for any Philadelphians affected by gun violence.
“We’re saying, we’re right here,” he said. “We have a therapist, we have social workers right here. And once you’ve done that, you can also take it to the next level with some ongoing resources and supports.”
The events will take place in churches, schools, libraries, and recreation centers. Free mental health screenings will be made available onsite.
Bryant is hopeful that bringing the film to places where people already gather will help them feel comfortable enough to share their own stories.
“In a safe space, no judgment zone … it also starts to break down some walls,” he said. “And that’s particularly important for our men and boys of color who are trying to traverse so many challenges in the city.”
In 2022, more than three-quarters of shooting victims were Black and another 15% were Hispanic, according to data from the Office of the Controller. About half of victims were between 18 and 30 years old, and 10% were under 18.
In the film, a group of young Black men spoke to Bryant and another mental health provider about the fear they experience on the streets of Philadelphia. They described avoiding crowds, watching their shadows, checking the mirrors of parked cars, and other behavior that clinicians often call hypervigilance.
Lamar Davis, 25, said the experience of violence is part of everyday life — which is why a lot of young men never seek help, even after a traumatic event such as losing a loved one.
“It’s so demoralizing to go through an event like that,” he said. “It’s really hard to open up, and if they do open up, how to express themselves. It’s really hard.”
Just over a quarter of Black and Hispanic men ages 18 to 44 who experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression were likely to have used mental health services, compared with 45% of non-Hispanic white men with the same feelings, according to a study from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The city’s behavioral health department has launched a number of initiatives in an effort to make mental wellness services more accessible, including the Boost Your Mood initiative, which offers online wellness tips and screenings, and the Network of Neighbors program, which trains community members to provide trauma support on city streets.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.
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