People with tics such as those diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome tend to make uncontrollable movements and sounds. With the current pandemic, doctors have seen cases in teenage girls, multiply especially in those who use TikTok. Three British doctors have in fact identified the social media network as a factor in the development of their tics.
Although the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be behind us, its shadow still hangs over our daily lives. The lockdowns and the general atmosphere of fear have not been kind to our mental health, especially to that of teenagers. Three pediatricians at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital For Children are concerned about the increase in tic diagnoses. Tics are uncontrolled muscle movements, often of the face that occur around the age of 5-7. Young boys are usually more affected than girls. Unlike OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tics are not related to an obsession.
The tics at issue here do not involve young boys, but teenage girls. The three pediatricians gave their opinion about this surge of tics in teenage girls in the BMJ, so this is not a scientific study, but the experts’ opinion, which is theirs alone, on the subject. Before the pandemic, tic specialists saw only about four to six girls with tics per year. However, between late December 2020 and January 2021, they started seeing three to four per week. Some were already suffering from some motor and verbal tics, but in others, the tics developed overnight.
In their article, they describe the case of a 14-year-old girl who reported motor and verbal tics in November 2020. The tics occurred mainly at school and the girl was forced to go home. Repetitive neck and hand movements accompanied by coprolalia (uncontrolled cursing) and other sounds. The girl did not suffer from tic disorders as a child, but there are cases of autism, Tourette’s syndrome, and hyperactivity in her family. In addition, she describes herself as shy and anxious. She is also a user of the app TikTok, on which she has shared her tics.
The doctors point to the role of TikTok and especially the hashtag “Tourette” which has 4.8 billion views. Under this hashtag, teens share videos of themselves with motor or auditory tics. Some of the teens who consulted the British doctors said they had watched these videos before their symptoms began or had filmed their tics themselves. This provided a sense of belonging and recognition, as well as support from other users. The authors of the study in Archives of Disease in Childhood note that “this attention and support may have unintentionally maintained and amplified the symptoms.” This is not to say that social media is responsible for tics in teenage girls. Rather, it is a result of the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, exacerbated by the mass use of social media.