Paul Bloom’s book, “Against Empathy” calls attention to the danger of empathizing with others as the form of empathy you employ will often reflect your own biases and prejudices onto the situations of other people. After reading bits and pieces of this book, I wondered: can empathy be forgery?

And I realized that the answer is yes.

After walking the halls of my monotonous high school, I realized that there were no signs of mental health resources such as hotlines or information about support groups in the area. But each year an unmistakable bulletin displayed the words, “May is Mental Health Awareness Month” followed by an absence of anything that gave students the assistance they so desperately needed. Following this discovery, I went to my principal to ask about the availability of these resources and he said, “This is great! Let’s have a meeting discussing this idea.”

This is an example of counterfeit empathy. 

While I did have continuous meetings with my principal as well as a group of interested students and teachers, everything we discussed was restrictive. I was not able to fully display resources like self-harm hotlines, hotlines for LGBTQIA+ youth, or therapeutic services near the bulletin because of the fear that my resources would inaccurately diagnose students with mental illnesses they did not have. Furthermore, we were given the option for students to go to counselors as well as guidance, knowing that guidance is mainly dedicated to advising students on academic careers. This option didn’t account for the freshmen who did not know where the counselor offices were located, the multitude of students who would be already in the offices waiting, or the hundreds of emails written to no response. 

My principal had empathy in his voice. But not the empathy that I needed. It was filled with bias and calculated empty promises so that my high school would be able to utilize the term “inclusive” in its bio. 

It is essential to note that there are better ways my high school could have illustrated a real sense of empathy. While my high school did address the urgency in my voice for mental health awareness, they did not really listen to students and their experiences. And that is where true empathy stems from. 

What I then began to realize was that this was not unique to my high school. A study by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing states that low-income individuals in rural areas are less likely to declare that mental health services are available to them. And making them available would be expensive. CNBC published an article in 2021 claiming that spending on mental health care was approximately 225 billion dollars and has since grown. According to an article by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Department of Health and Human Services granted nearly 35 million dollars in funding to mental health and self-harm support for teens in hopes of alleviating these growing expenses. But what about the adults looking for assistance to pay for their therapy sessions?

In my high school, therapeutic services were free. But in places such as the workplace, therapist access is expensive. Nevermind the fact that there are a lot of people without health insurance. So, what is there to do?

First, circumvent that question. Instead, ask “What can I do?”

Eliminate the idea that the best way to increase the amount of mental resources globally is with putting up posters and contacting government representatives. Realizing that mental health care is expensive comes with acceptance. Acceptance that a mental illness is an actual illness and not a personal failure. Mental health care is a necessity just as health care is a necessity. If we can come to terms with mental health as a reality, advocating for resources will be easier. At the same time, there is a correlation between globalization and mental health identity. With the emergence of various cultures comes a variety of ideas about where mental health stems from. Unfortunately, mental health identity is not as heavily emphasized as education. So remember that, while the goal is to reduce the expenses for mental health care, it is also to spread awareness globally. Many cultures still believe that mental illness is a figment of our imagination. 

In the end, Paul Bloom made a superior point about the reality of empathy. Empathy can be manipulated for personal gain. My principal in high school utilized a form of superficial empathy to ignite an emotional response from students so that they could believe that my high school was truly going to provide for them. However, there were no accessible support groups or any hotlines available to us. There was only that same bulletin board, but this time with pamphlets disclosing facts about certain mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. 

Even at Wesleyan, an institution that tries to provide genuine mental health programs such as Counseling and Psychological Services, there has been an enormous pushback concerning mental health resources on campus as well as the limited ability for accessing these therapeutic appointments.  

We need more depth when it comes to discovering how people struggle with mental illnesses and their coping mechanisms. 

We need more than guidance counselors who are inaccessible. 

We need more than counterfeit empathy. 

We need empathy that is genuine. 


Oluchi Chukwuemeka can be reached at

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