The Tik Tok Tic and the Politicization of Medical Care

How far has the influence of “influencers” gone?

Very far gone, it seems.

Recently a new phenomenon has cropped up, that of people—mostly teen girls—developing various tics akin to Tourette’s Syndrome after watching people on Tik Tok who actually have (or claim to have) the malady.

Interestingly, the reaction to the situation has been surprisingly reasonable and very unlike the reaction to another trend that is also quite possibly linked to social media: the recent surge in claims of gender dysphoria.

This is not the first time “social contagion” situations involving young women (and men, but to a far lesser extent) have arisen. From the Salem witch trials to more recent episodes in upstate New York (again, a movement disorder that spread through a relatively limited locale) to the hiccupping girls of Danvers, Mass. only a few years ago, incidents of social contagion or mass psychogenic illness or memeticism (various names are used) have been widely documented.

Most previous cases have been limited in geographical scope, but social media has now turned “somewhere” into “everywhere” and, like gain-of-function research, whether intentionally or not, you can now put one thing into one end of the Twitterverse and come out with something incredibly damaging on the other end.

Most of the incidents seem to involve young women. It’s a matter of some debate exactly why this is so, but teenage girls’ social structure is without question fertile ground for this kind of issue. Quite possibly out of an evolutionary instinctual urge to band together for safety from potential predators (i.e., whether human or animal), young women tend to cluster. This is not a bad thing—there is safety in numbers.

But this cluster effect can leave an opening for a herd mentality to blossom. From Valley Girl speak to bangs or no bangs to scrunchies to “Mean Girl” cliques, trends and fashions tend to burn through teenage girls with speed and ferocity. Obviously, yes, all teens are susceptible; you can almost always find a group of boys who are all aficionados of mullets, Marlboros, and muscle cars in the high school parking lot.

“Movement disorders” are comparatively rare in girls, doctors say, hence the initial surprise. After some discussion and investigation, it was noted that many girls were avid Tik Tok viewers. The current theory is that Tourette’s videos—combined, to an extent, with individual underlying anxiety issues and the acute psychological stress so many children and teens have been subjected to during the pandemic—are at the heart of the matter.

So, what are doctors telling worried parents to do about the Tik Tok tics? Basically tell the kids to put down the phone, get trusted professional help, minimize its impact by keeping everything else as regular as possible, and don’t overreact, don’t “feed into it.”

This calm approach can be taken even further. In the Danvers hiccups case, state health officials who investigated the matter seemed to come to a social contagion causal conclusion but decided not to release that to the public because the social stigma that could then be attached to the sufferers (no one wants to think they could ever fall prey to such nonsense) might cause lasting harm. They, essentially, just let it drop.

What the doctors in this situation are not doing is prescribing two packs of Camel every day to the girls, although nicotine has been shown to have significant ameliorative effects on the symptoms of Tourette’s. Giving cigarettes to kids would clearly be crazy. Smoking causes long-term damage and prescribing a harmful permanent solution to what is almost assuredly a short-term issue is never a good idea—any doctor who did so would be deservedly drummed out of the profession.

So then why are doctors right now prescribing harmful drugs and performing life-altering surgeries on girls who just decided they were born in the wrong body?

The environment around the sudden-onset Tourette’s sufferers is disturbingly close to that surrounding the recent explosion in “gender dysphoria” claims made by young women. As noted in Abigail Shrier’s book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, a very significant number of the girls now requesting gender transition treatment follow a similar pattern. In both situations, the same facts are present: underlying, but usually mild, psychological issues combined with the onset of teendom and the stresses that brings; a devotion to social media; and, quite possibly, a desire for attention or the desire to fit in by standing out.

But, again, only gender dysphoria is treated unquestioningly as permanent, real, and requiring radical and immediate intervention to solve. Gender “transition” clinics and their advocates in government and the media are not saying “don’t feed into it.” Instead, they are intentionally gorging it, either for financial gain, socio-political advantage, or as basic a desire to be one of the “cool kids” in their own profession. And there are the true believer physicians who think that drugging and chopping up a vulnerable teenage girl—quite possibly against the wishes of her parents and/or even without their knowledge—is a good idea. One wonders how any of these physicians would react if they were told to prescribe cigarettes to social contagious tics.

It seems the social media reaction to the recent spate of stories on the tic issue has mostly been reasonable, along the lines of “hmm, that’s odd, too bad for those girls, glad to hear it’s most likely a passing phase, maybe we should do something about Tik Tok, good thing the experts are putting this into perspective and handling it with proper and careful treatment so they can get back to their normal lives, etc.”

It does not appear that there has been a social media deluge of activists demanding that medical professionals “prescribe the cigarettes” to handle the issue as there probably has been with activists demanding that medical professionals “prescribe hormones and surgery.”

It’s just wrong to deny unequivocally the possibility—despite comparable situations of mass hysteria— that the recent surge in gender dysphoria cases/claims could in any way be influenced by social media, peer issues, etc. It also ignores the scientific method and permanently and incomprehensibly damages teens going through one of the most difficult parts of life.

Actual Tourette’s is real—about one-half of one percent of children have it. Actual gender dysphoria is real—about one in ten thousand teens have it. There is no denying that both issues deserve intelligent compassionate attention. But, unlike the situation with tics, even mentioning the possibility that social media (and other non-individual inherent factors) has conceivably played a role in the enormous rise in cases is as forbidden to discuss as was the COVID lab leak hypothesis just a few months ago.

“It gets better” seems to be the tack medical professionals are taking with the tic issue and that’s good. “It Gets Better” is also a positive and common trope in the LGBTQ community when discussing the teen years. But what if the instantaneous intervention of drugs and surgery makes it impossible for girls eventually to “get better?”

Then everything gets worse.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at planbuckley@gmail.com. You can read more of his work at https://thomas699.substack.com

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