Out in the Open

Tackling environmental despair with a makeshift booth and a sympathetic ear

Kate Schapira sets up a climate anxiety counselling booth as a way to battle feelings of isolation.

Kate Schapira sets up an amateur climate anxiety counselling booth as a way to battle feelings of isolation

Kate Schapira sets up an amateur climate anxiety counselling booth at public events in Providence, R.I. (Lara Henderson)

When Kate Schapira found herself feeling utterly powerless against the effects of climate change, she turned to Lucy Van Pelt for inspiration.

The popular comic strip character from Peanuts would set up a makeshift psychiatric booth and charge people a nickel for advice.

Schapira decided to do the same – except that she'd provide amateur climate anxiety counselling instead.

"I made a little booth out of plywood and cardboard, which I can pack onto a dolly, and I walk it to different places in the city. I set up, and I wait for people to ask me what it's about," Schapira told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Climate change and mental health

Schapira, who lives in Providence, R.I., is not a trained counsellor – she's an English professor.

She initially felt very isolated about the deeply concerning feelings she had about climate change, but since she began opening up the counselling booth, she quickly discovered that she's far from alone.

• CROSS COUNTRY CHECKUP:  Growing 'ecological grief' is the mental health cost of climate change

"I hear people say, 'I'm alone, I don't know what to do. I do things like using less plastic or driving less, but I know that's not enough,'" Schapira said about those who approach her booth.

Kate Schapira was inspired by Lucy Van Pelt of popular comic strip Peanuts, to set up an amateur climate anxiety counselling booth. (James Kuo)

Katie Hayes, a researcher on the psychosocial impacts of climate change at the University of Toronto, is the co-author of a June 2018 study titled, Climate change and mental health: risks, impacts and priority actions.

According to the study, there's increasing evidence that extreme weather events intensified by climate change can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, survivor's guilt, vicarious trauma, and other conditions.

•  THE CURRENT:  Fears around climate change are causing some people to seek out support groups

The study further states that the "overarching threats of a changing climate, can also incite despair and hopelessness."

 The worst part is the feeling that we've done this to ourselves, because of human short-sightedness, greed, capitalism, and all the other forces that combine to create islands of plastic.- Lisa Bryn Rundle

Radio producer gets climate anxiety advice

Out in the Open producer, Lisa Bryn Rundle, shares Schapira's feelings of environmental despair. She sat down with Schapira for a mock counselling session.

The interview has been edited and condensed. Click the "listen" button above to hear the full interview.

KATE SCHAPIRA: What's the scariest or worst part for you?

LISA BRYN RUNDLE: The worst part is the feeling that we've done this to ourselves, because of human short-sightedness, greed, capitalism, and all the other forces that combine to create islands of plastic. We see evidence of this, and we're still doing it.

KS: Have you had these conversations with people, like we're having now?

LBR: No, because I don't want to be judgemental. And I understand that people's lives are complicated, and their decisions are complicated. And I don't want to put my stuff on them.

KS: We do share a world though, right? I feel like the exact thing you are speaking of, is that we put our stuff on each other all the time.

LBR: Literally.

KS: I think my suggestion for you, is to think about how you might begin to have this conversation with people, that's rooted in your own concern, your own anxiety... rather than saying, "Don't do this, or don't do that" ... how you might create an invitation to think and feel about this a little more, with the goal of shifting in some way.

LBR: Thank you so much. I will mail you five cents.


This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Helplessness".

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