The Node: Opening the Mental Health Closet

Reinventing money, the financial system, the internet and the enterprise is fun. But sometimes the workload can take its toll.

I was reminded of that yesterday reading Dan Kuhn’s interview with Sandeep Nailwal, co-founder of Polygon, a hot Ethereum-scaling startup. Nailwal, who lives in India, described a grueling routine of 16 or 17 calls a day, little sleep and no vacation, even for Christmas.

“My life is always spending. Personal life gets affected a lot. And this is not only for me,” he said. “Everybody who is doing anything significant in crypto is going through the same situation.”

This article is excerpted from The Node, CoinDesk’s daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here. 

To crypto outsiders, the response to this may be some version of cry me a river. Polygon’s own token, matic, is up 35-fold this year. And anyone who invested in bitcoin (BTC) more than a few weeks ago is sitting on impressive gains, perhaps even life-changing fortunes. A little hard work is worth it.

But there are reasons why working in crypto comes with special strains and why Nailwal says, “There will be studies on mental health on the people in crypto.” The market is 24/7. Volatility is baked in. And any successful project has lots of stakeholders who need looking after. That’s the nature of these decentralized, commonly owned, commonly governed initiatives.

Nailwal spoke of running a startup that faces the scrutiny of a listed company.

“When you are building your own token startup, basically you are a public company, you have similar obligations as being a public company because everything is on view. Plus, you have to handle all of the pressure of being a startup. You have to build your product, find your customers and all that. The pressure is multifold.

“You are working in the finance industry and you are working in a startup – both are extremely excruciating things, but together in one job. It has been very taxing. On a personal level and professional level I feel like I have aged a lot.”

Marc Hochstein and I recently interviewed a psychotherapist in Southern California about crypto’s hidden mental health issues (full write-up coming soon). She has several clients who are at their wits’ end, unable to cope with the dual challenges of pandemic work and an always-on industry.

“This is really different. If you are in middle management in any other industry, you’re not experiencing so many highs and lows. It’s very intensely stressful yet exciting. But because it’s new, we still don’t even know what the impacts of mental health are on for those individuals in this industry.”

There’s a lot more to say here. But, for now, the takeaways are these:

One, look after yourself. Jeff Wilser wrote an easy 15-point guide to staying sane while trading crypto here.

Two, look out for your work colleagues; they may be less happy than their emojis and Slack comments suggest.

And three, if you are a manager, think about ways to offer extra help and time off, and even in-house counseling. The therapist we spoke to said the crypto industry can lead the way on mental health in the workplace, ending stigmas for good.

“In my opinion, I think the whole stigma to mental health is kind of disappearing,” she said. “And I’m hoping that, with the new crypto industry, mental health can grow with it.”