A psychologists’ group has released a warning over the mental toll borne by those involved in the protests against the government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade agreement.
The Taiwan Counseling Psychologists Union said that stress-prone individuals should take a break from the Internet, in particular social media Web site Facebook, to avoid some of the psychological burden surrounding the protests.
The union has set up a “stress relief station” near the Legislative Yuan premises for those in need of counseling. It also called on educational institutions to continue to provide care and guidance for students on campuses.
Hundreds of student-led protesters have occupied the main chamber of the Legislative Yuan since Tuesday last week, and many more have staged a sit-in protest within the building’s compound.
Union spokeswoman Lin Tsui-fen (林萃芬) said the demonstrations reflect the apprehension and insecurity over the future felt by young men and women.
She said that the students in and around the Legislative Yuan, as well as law enforcement personnel deployed at the scene, are suffering from sleep deprivation, which, if not carefully managed, could lead to physical and mental breakdowns.
The union appealed to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration to listen to the students’ concerns and ideas.
The union believes it is crucial that the administration takes the students’ demands seriously and that talks continue in order to build mutual trust.
As for those prone to stress, the union said there is no harm in leaving the scene for a short while, avoiding newspapers, television and Facebook — or the Internet as a whole. The union also suggested that such individuals should practice stress management techniques.
The union’s advice came as reports of negative effects from Facebook use have surfaced.
The heated debate over the trade agreement with China has taken over the majority of local chatter on Facebook, and some students are afraid to express their opinions as they fear a backlash of abuse and social isolation, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Wednesday.
“Protesting against the service trade pact has become the rule,” the mother of one student was quoted as saying.
Many Facebook users have changed their profile pictures to a completely black image as a sign of protest against the government’s actions, the report said.
This acts as a form of peer pressure, which forces users to choose a side and may see people “unfriended” if they express an opposing opinion, the newspaper said.
Facebook has played an important role in mobilizing support for the protest and now in polarizing opinions because of its popularity, the report said.
Statistics from Czech-based social media network analysts Socialbakers indicates that in Taiwan, 67 percent of the population has access to the Internet, and 59 percent of Taiwanese Internet users — more than 9 million — have Facebook accounts, making the nation one of the leading users of the social media Web site in the world.
Socialbakers attributed Facebook’s popularity in Taiwan to a lack of social media network competitors, as well as the popularity of social gaming in the nation.