Teen Girls With Tics Had One Thing in Common

They watched a lot of TikTok videos
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2021 11:00 AM CDT
Teen Girls With Tics Had One Thing in Common
The TikTok app logo.   (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

About a decade ago in upstate New York, a group of teen girls inexplicably developed tics—verbal outbursts, twitches, etc.—for no apparent reason. The phenomenon in Le Roy was diagnosed as a case of "mass psychogenic illness." The incident is cited by both the Wall Street Journal and the Jerusalem Post as they explore what appears to be a new twist on the same principle. Cases of teen girls with involuntary tics are on the rise, and one common denominator is that the patients watch TikTok videos. Hence, the informal name of "TikTok Tics." National stats are hard to find, but the Journal finds example after example. For instance, Texas Children's Hospital has seen about 60 teens with tics since the pandemic began in March 2020, compared to maybe one or two cases a year prior to that. Medical centers elsewhere, and not just in the US, report similar spikes.

It seems the teens are developing their tics—similar to Tourette syndrome, though without a biological basis—after watching videos of TikTok users who say they have Tourette syndrome. There's no sinister motive at play; on the one hand, TikTok provides a forum for those with Tourette syndrome or similar ailments to explain the issue and find support; on the other hand, those videos may have unintended consequences just now coming clear. And it's not a clear-cut connection. "There are some kids who watch social media and develop tics and some who don’t have any access to social media and develop tics," one specialist tells the Journal. "I think there are a lot of contributing factors, including anxiety, depression, and stress." Still, a common treatment for the new cases is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and instructions to stay off TikTok for several weeks. (Read more TikTok stories.)

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