Web3 & Mental Health: The Dog in a Wig Paradox
Filmic portrayals of the bold, brash and unfeeling 1980s yuppie (Gordon Gekko taking the floor in Wall Street, Bruce Wayne cutting up bad guys in American Psycho) have a lot to answer for when it comes to the misrepresentation of the modern day finance bro – no more so than when considering the cliched image of the bullish crypto trader.
Abundant arrogance and abusive banter often powering bull market Telegram communities, each full of financial sages determined to earn enough bunce to raise sea levels. However, suspicions of incongruity appear when, instead of being able to see a snarling, plutocratic caricature, we are often faced with disarming profile pictures of a dog in a wig or a cartoon frog tipping his hat, delivering the vicious grandstanding. Yes, there may be a desperate part in us all that wants to believe in the modern crypto bro’s sincerity as they espouse war cries of “hooooooodl” and “wen moooon?” into a cacophony of bare-chested gladiators ready to protect our investments with their own lives, but it is impossible to detach from the complex contradictions found throughout this new financial coliseum.
As a therapist, naming an observed contradiction from a client is often one of the most valuable entry points into deeper therapeutic exploration, signposting the way to hidden truths wrapped in painful emotions. Authenticity is both complex and confronting and in online relationships it becomes even more challenging to ascertain its absence in the people we meet.
On first sight, the financial sphere of the 1980s might appear to have been a simpler time to understand the rules of engagement, driven by such definitive idioms as shit or bust and dog eat dog, with awful outcomes of financial ruin simply a prelude to getting back on the horse to live another day. But idioms offer a facile insight into the multifaceted nature of humans and their relationship with what constitutes success or failure. Whereas the mental health repercussions of failed success are more clear to see in our traditional landscape, through things like increased suicide rate statistics after financial crashes – people literally jumping to their death from the tops of their work place, they are noticeably more difficult to pinpoint in the online world of web3.
But, these examples are tragic results of extreme conditions and, as we are ever more socially aware, poor mental health is not exclusive to such moments.
Mental health is fluid even for the healthiest of people, impacted by a multitude of factors, the weight of each one often felt uniquely based on an individual’s lived experiences. When friends or colleagues of whom we spend substantial face-to-face time with begin to struggle, it can be easy to spot early, increasing the chances of providing caring support before things potentially escalate. Even those of whom we are meeting in person for the first time can communicate signs that they need support, despite often attempting to mask their suffering. Reading these verbal and non verbal cues are an intuitive and evolutionary skillset of being a pack animal. Bound to survival by unifying and sustaining healthy communities, the rewards of our interpersonal nature are most plentiful when engaging intimately in collaborative relationships. Workplace relationships, although often more superficial in nature, still incur a physical coming together, providing the opportunity to spot another person’s emotional decline as well as fulfilling a humanistic need for basic intimacy.
Reflectively, within the web3 space, except for those people privileged enough to attend expensive crypto conferences in order to network *cough*, it is abundantly clear that mental illness is easier to cloak from behind an online persona.
So, where does this leave those who are mentally unwell in an industry heavily focused on decentralised governance, autonomy and liberalism? One where the majority of the space is made up of independent entities that share little more than an investment interest. Sure, online relationships can be both fulfilling and substantial but this becomes more unlikely for someone with an acute mental health illness.
Individually, we can of course all do more to iron out our own limitations when it comes to extending empathy and unconditional regard for others, learning to hold on to the awareness that behind the brash persona and anime profile picture of someone with lovely hair there might be a person using the space to mask complex trauma or a behavioural disorder. However, expecting utopia is both unrealistic and unreasonable in an ever demanding world in which most of us do not have the time or emotional space to be constantly vigilant or compassionate. It is also simply not enough by itself.
Mental illness is broad-ranging and requires comprehensive professional services to cover the needs of sufferers. As awareness around the importance of maintaining good mental health grows and both the human and monetary value of prevention over intervention becomes more obvious, we witness access to therapeutic care slashed and public service infrastructure dismantled across the world. Leaving behind overworked and oversubscribed providers struggling to cope with ever increasing demand.
So, how can a nascent industry such as web 3.0, which complicates diagnosing clients because of anonymity and one that currently has a non-existent framework to offer therapy provision let alone pathways for accessibility, provide hope? The answer is complex of course, and not possibly solved in 1,000 words. However, a globalised network that provides lower barriers to entry for onboarding both care providers and clients, greater unification of resources and knowledge and the potential for more user autonomy over their data and privacy is an exciting starting point.
Web 3.0 is innovation and in an underfunded, crumbling mental health care system that seems to be running out of ideas; it might just be what the doctor ordered.