Sam Bankman-Fried Almost Tweeted About His Depression, Drafts Show

“I don’t really know what ‘happiness’ means”: FTX founder would have defended himself against the internet.

AccessTimeIconSep 29, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 29, 2023 at 3:29 p.m. UTC
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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried has a right to shape the narrative around him, his lawyers argued during a court hearing last month. Unposted tweets obtained by CoinDesk suggest he may have been trying to craft a new image for himself since as soon as last December by discussing his mental health and prescribed medication.

“Things are a spectrum,” Bankman-Fried wrote before his arrest last year on fraud and conspiracy charges. ”I don’t have major depressive disorder, probably. But I do generally test positive for dysthymia [a form of mild, long-term depression], and anhedonia [the inability to feel pleasure]. My lows aren’t unusually low – but I generally don’t have highs.”

Last week, highlights from 250 pages of similar draft tweets were published by the New York Times after being leaked by social media personality and Bankman-Fried confidante Tiffany Fong. CoinDesk viewed the tweet thread entitled “EmSam” in December prior to his arrest, and Fong reportedly received the trove of writings the following month.

With one million followers, Bankman-Fried was a prolific and compulsive poster on Twitter, now known as X. But the unposted tweets show him describing his thoughts with influencers as he faces fraud charges related to FTX’s collapse. By March, the social media platform was not among the approved websites Bankman-Fried was permitted to access while confined in his parents' home in Stanford, California.

“According to Twitter, it’s because, uh, something about veganism or gambling or addiction or sex. EmSam helps, a bit. It helps me stay focused, and organized.”
Sam Bankman-Fried

The Federal District Court in Manhattan revoked Bankman-Fried’s bail and sent him to jail in August after deciding he was interfering with trial witnesses, in part by sending documents to the media. Prosecutors argued that Bankman-Fried sent diary excerpts written by Caroline Ellison, a key witness and executive within the FTX empire whom he once dated, to reporters in an attempt to intimidate her by casting her in a negative light. Bankman-Fried’s attorneys are disputing a temporary gag order barring him from speaking to the media.

Bankman-Fried said he first realized something was awry with his mental health during high school. “I’d already lived for 16 years. And somehow, never during those years had I really asked myself what made me happy. Nothing does… And at the end of the day I don’t really know what ‘happiness’ means. None of us really do. But the thing everyone describes–it’s not a thing I feel,” he writes.

Linking to a WebMD article, Bankman-Fried explained over the past decade he’s been prescribed an antidepressant called EmSam to balance his mental health. As a vocal proponent of EmSam, the former FTX CEO hired a psychiatrist as a company coach who prescribed the medication and who “witnesses have described as liberally dispensing prescriptions to FTX employees,” according to Department of Justice attorneys. Amid FTX’s downfall, speculation heightened on Bankman-Friend’s use of EmSam.

“According to Twitter, it’s because, uh, something about veganism or gambling or addiction or sex,” Bankman-Fried wrote. “EmSam helps, a bit. It helps me stay focused, and organized.”

While in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, Bankman-Fried’s attorney, Marc Cohen, has brought up medical issues regarding his client’s access to prescription drugs. Cohen said in an August hearing that Bankman-Fried was not receiving his Adderall and was fearful of running out of EmSam. Moreover, he was subsisting on “bread and water, and sometimes peanut butter” because his vegan dietary restrictions were not being addressed.

The change in lifestyle from a luxury penthouse in the Bahamas to a Brooklyn jail may be drastic, but one of Bankman-Fried's unpublished tweets suggests it may not make much of a difference to him. “I’ve never really been into fancy things. I’d like to think it’s because it would be selfish, but honestly a lot of it is because fancy things won’t make me happy anyway. Because nothing will,” Bankman-Fried wrote.

“I did what I could to provide a nice life for those working for FTX – it was one part of trying to recruit the best team we could. But when I hear about all the wild parties we were supposedly happening, all I can think is, ‘I wish my life was as exciting as Twitter thinks it is.’ And then, ‘nevermind, it wouldn’t make me happy anyway.’”

DOJ attorneys have attempted to bar a mental disease defense from Bankman-Fried’s attorneys, arguing they’ve had no notice of such a defense before the appropriate deadline. After Bankman-Fried’s attorneys proposed jury questions to gather opinions of ADHD last week, the government filed a letter to the Southern District of New York court, arguing that such questions were “unnecessarily intrusive” and “telling the jury that the defendant has ADHD would serve only to improperly cast the defendant at the outset of the trial in a sympathetic light… Information about the defendant’s mental health – whether about his diagnosis of ADHD or depression – has no proper place at trial and the defense should also be precluded from mentioning it in opening statement.”

Bankman-Fried’s private writings have been criticized for blaming everyone, but himself. He ends the tweet thread he never posted the same way it began: “I feel incredibly bad about what happened, and am going to do everything I can to get as much value to customers as possible.”

Edited by Ben Schiller and Nikhilesh De.


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Christine Lee

Christine Lee is an anchor and producer at CoinDesk. Previously, she anchored live daily market updates and reported business news features for television stations around the world at Thomson Reuters. She first began covering cryptocurrencies at Bloomberg TV Canada.

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