Teen girls are showing up to the doctor with tics, and experts think anxiety, depression, and TikTok could be playing a role

·3 min read
An iPhone displaying the TikTok logo. In the background, silhouettes dance around a TikTok logo.
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  • More teen girls are showing up to the doctor with tics, The Wall Street Journal reported.

  • Tics typically start when a child is young and get worse over time.

  • Studies suggest teens are developing tics from watching TikTok videos of people with Tourette's.

Doctors in multiple countries are reporting a rise in teen girls developing tics, and that anxiety, depression, and TikTok could be contributing factors.

The rise began around the start of the pandemic and has alarmed and puzzled doctors, The Wall Street Journal reported. Several medical journal articles found the teen girls were watching TikTok videos of people who said they had Tourette syndrome.

Tourette syndrome is a genetic nervous-system disorder, according to VOA News, and can cause tics, repetitive, involuntary movements, or sounds. The disorder mostly impacts boys and the tics typically start when a person is young and then develop over time.

Dr. Kirsten Müller-Vahl, a doctor based in Hanover, Germany told the Jerusalem Post that she has been seeing more and more teen and young adult girls coming in with tics. Müller-Vahl, who has treated Tourette's for 25 years, said while people who have the disorder usually have their own unique tics, the girls she was seeing recently had the same ones.

She quickly discovered that those patients were mimicking the tics of a German YouTuber who shares online how she lives with the disorder.

While there's no national or international data compiled on the extent of the issue, The Journal reported that some medical centers are seeing as much as 10 times their usual cases of tics. Before the pandemic, centers would see one or two cases a month, but now some say they're seeing between 10 or 20 a month.

Caroline Olvera, a movement-disorders fellow at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told The Journal she noticed many patients blurting out the word "beans" with a British accent, even patients who didn't speak English. Eventually, she learned that one top British TikToker would blurt out the word "beans."

Doctors noted that what's happening isn't Tourette's, but a functional movement disorder. They also told The Journal that many of the kids who developed tics had previously been diagnosed with anxiety or depression that had been made worse during the pandemic.

A recent paper by Mariam Hull, a child neurologist at Texas Children's Hospital found that psychological disorders, which have the capacity to spread, were mostly confined to geographical locations in the past, but that social media has allowed them to spread globally.

She told The Journal that it's not likely to develop a tic by just watching one video but that TikTok's algorithm means kids are seeing similar videos repeatedly.

"Some kids have pulled out their phones and showed me their TikTok, and it's full of these Tourette cooking and alphabet challenges," Hull said.

The Jerusalem Post reported that these disorders can be treated. Doctors suggested kids take a social media break and parents ask what type of videos their kids are viewing, The Journal reported. Additionally, if a kid exhibits tics that interfere with daily life, parents should seek out specialists.

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