That’s right, you can add TikTok tics to the list of new things humanity has acquired since the advent of the year 2020, because teenagers from all over the world are displaying more and more tics and other behavioral mimicry that they seem to be picking up on that Like-Vine-Videos-But-Longer social media app. 

More specifically, teenage girls who’ve been watching TikTok videos of people with Tourette’s syndrome have been showing similar behavioral traits and tics, even though they don’t have the syndrome themselves. 

There have been multiple cases in the U.S. of teens mimicking TikTok-ers with Tourette’s. In Germany, doctors are worried about an alarming spike in cases that first started rising in 2019 and only seemed to pick up momentum during the pandemic. One major influencer of this mass hysteria-type outbreak over in Europe seems to be Jan Zimmermann, a vlogger and popular TikTok-er who has a YouTube channel with over two million subscribers named Living with Tourette’s.

Doctor Kirsten Müller-Vahl, a psychiatrist in Germany and head of the Tourette’s outpatient department at Hannover Medical School, was the first to notice that many of these new cases all had bizarrely similar and identical symptoms. When questioned, they all individually admitted that they enjoyed watching Zimmermann’s videos — the guy who had identical tics to those these kids were displaying. Zimmermann would repeat phrases like “Fliegende Haie” (flying sharks) and “Du bist häßlich” (you are ugly). He would often smash eggs, and throw pens around in school. The kids — who, it has to be noted, were diagnosed with Tourette’s by their physicians before ending up at the Tourette’s department — were showcasing the exact same tics.

It wasn’t difficult to make the connection, since the teens were even referring to their condition as “Gisela,” which is Zimmermann’s nickname for his Tourette’s (it should also be pointed out that Tourette’s syndrome is usually diagnosed around age 6, and boys are three times more likely to have it). Doctor Müller-Vahl concluded that some of the teenage girls presenting severe cases were actually exhibiting symptoms of another on-the-rise illness -- FMD, or functional movement disorder, which could easily (and dangerously) be misdiagnosed by someone not schooled in these conditions. 

While Tourette’s syndrome is more centered around neurological causes, FMD seems to be rooted in psychology and can be brought on by stress, limited social interaction, and as some doctors are now theorizing, increased screen time. Which makes the onset of a global pandemic — accompanied by lockdowns — with people now having easier access to the internet the perfect storm. 

Medical experts from UCLA are worried about the rising number of these cases, saying that before the pandemic, they saw one or two of these “mimicking social media” cases per year. There are currently 10 to 15 of these cases per month. In fact, the phenomenon now has an official name: Mass social-media-induced illness. 

Which, honestly, sounds like something suffered by all of us.

Top Image: Shutterstock

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