“Bitcoin lowkey made me depressed today,” a Twitter user said Wednesday.
“At least when the Beanie Baby bubble burst there was a mountain of soft cuddly stuffed animals that could soak up all your tears and muffle the sounds of you weeping,” tweeted a comedy writer, Mishu Hilmy.
Other cryptocurrency fans say they are holding firm, or even buying more of the currency, as its value takes a roller coaster ride. But at least among some traders, the wildly fluctuating prices of cryptocurrencies — including bitcoin BTCUSD, +14.65% ripple and Ethereum — are taking their toll. The distress even prompted a post aimed at despondent crypto investors about how to call the U.S. National Suicide Hotline on Reddit’s popular cryptocurrency forum.
As of Wednesday afternoon, bitcoin had lost about half its value since reaching a record high around $20,000 last month.
Robert Shiller, a Nobel Prize-winning economics professor at Yale University, has called the cryptocurrency craze “a marvelous study” of human behavior. “It is providing valuable information about how millions of human brains process stimuli coming, in this case public acceptance, imagination, and innovation surrounding cryptocurrencies.”
For some people, that isn’t going so well.
Cryptocurrency traders are actually experiencing similar emotions to those of traders in the stock market during major bubbles and busts, researchers suggest. During the “down” times, traders faced effects ranging from temporary sadness to anxiety and panic disorders.
Hospital admissions and large declines in the S&P 500
There was a noticeable uptick in admissions to the hospital, especially for mental health issues, following large declines in the S&P 500, such as the market crash in 1987, said University of California at San Diego professors Joseph Engelberg and Christopher Parsons, who published a paper on the topic in October 2014.
They analyzed patient records for every hospital in California from 1983 to 2011 and found a “strong” link between low daily stock returns and hospital admissions, particularly for psychological conditions including anxiety, panic disorders or major depression.
“Although our work focuses on the broader market, the same logic could be applied to the ups and downs of cryptocurrency investing,” Engelberg said. “I’d expect large drawdowns in this market to cause considerable stress for some cryptocurrency investors, and that stress could lead to a noticeable uptick in adverse health outcomes.”
Researchers from The College of William and Mary and Johns Hopkins have also found that sudden, large losses of wealth affect mental health. When studying the effects of the 2008 stock market crash, they found that those who lost wealth had increased feelings of depression and use of antidepressant drugs. The effects were most significant among those who had high levels of stock holdings before the crash.
Still, those feelings may be temporary, they found. A sudden loss of wealth was tied to a decline in subjective measures of mental health, such as “feeling depressed” or self-reporting poor health, but it wasn’t tied to “clinically validated” measures of depression, which are determined by a mental-health test the researchers gave participants.
Plus, the cryptocurrency market has been historically volatile, Engelberg said. That may temper some of the health-related responses among investors, since they have seen large declines before. Large, unexpected declines are most painful for investors in a low-volatility market.
The relationship between money and happiness
The connection between happiness and money is complicated. Although losing wealth is tied to unhappiness, gaining wealth sometimes is, too.
One famous study from 1978 compared 22 major lottery winners with 29 paralyzed accident victims, as well as a control group. The researchers, from the University of Massachusetts and Northwestern, found that the lottery winners were no happier than the control group, and no happier than they were themselves in the past. They also took less pleasure in mundane events. The accident victims were only slightly unhappier than the control group when asked about everyday tasks.
Those who have lost nearly everything can find happiness, too. Author Geneen Roth lost her life savings in the Bernie Madoff scandal, but said she was able to recover, though she sometimes feels angry about the past.
“That was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life,” she told Oprah Winfrey in a recent interview. “I had to focus on what I had, not what I didn’t have …I had to bring my mind back from the terror and start focusing on what was good.”