Is TikTok to Blame for Developing Tics?


Lizbeth Cobos Lugo, Reporter

“A pandemic within a pandemic” is what doctors all over the world are calling the rise in cases of tic-like behaviors in teen girls. Could this be caused by watching TikTok videos about Tourette Syndrome?

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate at which girls have been showing up to their doctor’s appointments with sudden severe physical tics has increased by as much as 10 times more often than before. The sudden high number of reports is unusual and movement-disorder doctors were baffled at first, knowing that tics typically occur in boys from a young age, not girls. After studying patients for months and consulting with hospitals, experts in the U.S, Australia, Canada, and the U.K. found that the common factor within the girls was an interest in watching TikTok videos from influencers who openly spoke on having Tourette Syndrome, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A statement from doctors at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, which had 20 patients with tics for over four months this year  compared to 10 all of last year, looked at TikTok videos hash-tagged with “tic,” “Tourette,” and “Tourettes.” Doctors wrote that they “believe this to be an example of mass sociogenic illness,” in which people copy the behaviors they see in the videos. Caroline Olvera, a movement-disorders fellow, told the Journal that several teen girls had a tic that would cause them to say “beans,” sometimes in a British accent, even if they didn’t speak English. After watching Tourette- focused videos on TikTok, Olvera discovered that the top Tourette influencer was British and would often say “beans.”

Since March 2020, researchers from pediatric hospitals found that referrals for tic-like behaviors in the U.S, Canada, the U.K., Germany, and Australia went from 1 to 2% to 20 to 35% for girls aged 12-25. The Texas Children’s Hospital said they had around 60 teens come in with tics compared to just one or two a year before then. While at Johns Hopkins University Tourette’s Center, the number of patients reporting tic-like behaviors has jumped from 2 to 3% a year to 10 to 20%. Doctors told the Journal that the girls are not likely to develop Tourette syndrome but a functional movement disorder that can be addressed with therapy. They also discovered that many of the teens had also been previously diagnosed with anxiety or depression, which had intensified during the pandemic.

Doctors recommend that parents who are seeing these tic-like behaviors in their teens should have them take a break from social media or block Tourette videos on their TikTok account. Parents should also resist overreacting, and they should try to help their kids maintain a normal routine.