UK doctor says 'we need to find solutions' as reports suggest TikTok videos may contribute to teenagers developing tic-like symptoms

·3-min read

A doctor in the UK has told Sky News "we need to find some solutions" as medical journal reports suggest TikTok videos may have contributed to teenagers developing tic-like symptoms during the pandemic.

Multiple reports have noted an increase in tic-like episodes among some adolescents, mainly teenage girls.

A report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) into COVID-related increases in tic-like attacks has raised concerns that videos by influencers with tic symptoms on social media sites like TikTok, may be 'inadvertently reinforcing and maintaining symptoms'.

It said UK specialist tic clinics at two children's hospitals in London each received three to four referrals per week in three months between 2020-2021, which were acute onset tics in teenage girls, and if patterns continued it would effectively double the referral rate.

Dr Tammy Hedderly, consultant paediatric neurologist at Evelina London Children's Hospital and King's College Hospital, told Sky News the findings highlighted "a major problem" and "some solutions" must be found to "address the distress that is being caused to the families and young people affected".

Dr Hedderly, who co-authored the BMJ report, added that tics and functional tic-like episodes increase when "observed or talked about" and so "when some children and young people watch episodes on media they can inadvertently be suggested".

She added that some young people have developed similar movements to the TikTok influencers and so scientists must engage with influencers and social media companies to research this and find solutions.

Tics are fast muscle movements that result in involuntary, sudden body jolts or sounds.

People who have Tourette's Syndrome (TS), a neurological condition, often experience tics with symptoms ranging from mild to very severe - including physical tics like eye-rolling and vocal tics like grunting.

TikTok has over a billion users every month and the hashtags #tourettes and #tics, which have been viewed over eight billion times collectively, are widely used to post positive and educational videos about the condition and tic symptoms to raise awareness.

Under the hashtag, videos attracting millions of views range from daily life routines of people with Tourette's displaying tic symptoms, to cooking videos and Q&As about the condition.

Some TikTok influencers who have Tourette's Syndrome have taken to the platform to defend videos posted under #tourettes and similar hashtags, saying the videos help create a supportive community and factors like stress have caused a rise in tics.

Medical journal reports do note that whilst TikTok videos may have contributed to tic symptoms among some, the issue is more complex and other factors like stress, anxiety, and depression impacted by the pandemic are also likely contributing factors.

Sky News asked TikTok whether it was familiar with concerns that such videos could influence tic-like symptoms.

A TikTok spokesperson said: "The safety and well-being of our community is our priority" and it is "consulting with industry experts to better understand this specific experience".

Research in other countries such as Canada, the United States, Germany, and Australia have also suggested similar patterns of tic-like behaviour among teenagers on social media, particularly TikTok.

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