Doctors Have Been Seeing Teen Girls Develop Tics And They Think TikTok Might Be Involved

    "His prescription for unlearning the tics includes cognitive behavioral therapy and taking a break from TikTok for several weeks."

    On today's episode of BuzzFeed Daily, we broke down the top pop culture headlines AND discussed the surprising reason teen girls are developing tics. You can listen below or scroll down to read more about the interview!

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    So let's dive right into it! Recently we talked to The Wall Street Journal’s Julie Jargon about how teen girls are developing physical ailments after watching TikToks. Here's some of what we learned:

    BuzzFeed Daily: You wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal about how teenage girls have been developing physical tics at record rates since the beginning of the pandemic. At first, doctors were stumped, but then they realized that the girls all had something in common. What was it that they discovered?

    Photo of a teenage girl on her phone

    BuzzFeed Daily: To be fair, not all the doctors agree that TikTok is solely to blame. So what are some of the other factors that can contribute to tics?

    JJ: Yeah, there's been obviously a lot of stress and anxiety related to the pandemic. And anytime there are high levels of anxiety and depression, those kinds of underlying conditions can cause things like tics. And that's what some doctors are saying, that it might be more to do with that. But according to others, these girls with tics that are similar to those seen on TikTok also have underlying anxiety and depression and other mental health issues that were either brought on by or exacerbated by the pandemic.

    BuzzFeed Daily: You spoke to neurologist Dr. Donald Gilbert, who said the tics are real symptoms of functional neurological disorders, meaning they're not just in someone's head. Could you just explain how these TikToks contribute to these tics?

    Teenage girl talking to a counselor

    BuzzFeed Daily: His prescription for unlearning the tics includes cognitive behavioral therapy and taking a break from TikTok for several weeks. We all know that social media is bad for us, but were you surprised to see a doctor recommending this as a medical opinion?

    JJ: I was surprised when he told me that that was the first thing he recommends these patients do. I had not heard of that being a recommendation for other issues related to social media use before. So I thought it was interesting that he said to step away from that and stop seeing something that might be triggering for people.

    BuzzFeed Daily: You mentioned a famous case from upstate New York, where several teens developed tics that were eventually diagnosed as a mass psychogenic illness, but were mostly confined to a geographic location. This is pretty terrifying considering that social media draws people into these shared communities. So can you explain a little bit about how this case evolved? Also, do you foresee more cases like this happening unless there's some sort of change to social media?

    Two teen girls on their phones

    BuzzFeed Daily: This all feels very overwhelming and kind of unsolvable. And I guess it just comes with the territory of having new technology and slowly discovering its effect on humans. I think you touched on this a little bit before, but what were some of the most helpful things you learned in writing this piece?

    JJ: Some of the doctors have said that just being able to tell these young people that they are in control of this and they can learn to sort of unlearn this behavior has been helpful to a lot of the patients. Some doctors have told me that, not always, but sometimes immediately patients, once they were given a firm diagnosis and told, "You know, we understand you're not faking this, you're not making this up, but you do have the ability to have some control over that" — that has really helped a lot of patients resolve the tics. Maintaining a normal routine was another thing that the doctor said is helpful, that a lot of times when these kids have tics and they have an episode at school, it can feel really embarrassing. It can be disturbing and stressful. And they might go to the nurse's office and go home for the day. But having that disruption and those transitions can bring on tics. And so the better thing to do is just go about your daily life, maintain your routine, don't have those disruptions and transitions if possible.

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