A combination of pandemic lockdowns and videos uploaded to TikTok is blamed for a huge increase in the number of young women, mostly displaying bizarre ‘twitches’ and swearing out of control.
In some cases, Tourette’s Syndrome has become so severe that teenagers have filmed themselves banging their heads on furniture or even slapping other people.
Outbursts also include repeatedly saying words that have little or no context, making rude gestures, or making popping noises.
“There’s a fiercely independent young girl just trapped in her own head, in her own body. It’s really hard to watch,” 14-year-old Metallyka Torzillo’s mother told Channel 9 60 minutes Sunday evening.
The footage then showed Metallica slapping, but not with full force, her mother in the face.
“I anticipated that one,” Metallyka’s mother said 60 minutesSarah Abu.
The teenager has now been diagnosed with Tourette’s disease and a functional neurological disorder.
Metallyka said she often had no control over the tics which manifested as “screaming, screaming, kicking, pinching, biting and spitting.”
She added that confinement and isolation had affected her badly in recent years.
Mikayla Kolbe is another teenage girl who suddenly found herself screaming uncontrollably, going wild, and having verbal and other tics.
At one point, Mikayla was taken to hospital, but doctors were baffled by the way she presented.
“In the hospital it was just this unknown thing going on and they were all a little scared, which scared me a little too,” Mikayla said.
For nine months, Mikayla swore, shouted, threw objects and even did handstands repeatedly. At one point, Mikayla tried to bite her finger.
“It was pretty distressing for everyone around me at the time as well. And I was constantly on edge,” she said.
Pediatric neurologist at Sydney Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Professor Russell Dale, told the program he started seeing the disease in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic.
He now says there are tens of thousands of young people with symptoms around the world.
This was curious because Tourette’s syndrome usually starts gradually and at a younger age, since these new patients were teenagers and almost all of them were women.
“Some of the tics were similar, but some of them were definitely different,” Professor Dale said.
“There were some pretty violent movements of the arms, sometimes hitting each other.
“And also the vocalizations – so the repetitive noises were different rather than just noises, were much more complicated words and phrases, which are quite weird.
“I had never really heard things like that before.”
One of the patients used to shout at passers-by that she was missing child Madeleine McCann and was kidnapped by her parents.
Professor Dale said the pandemic and isolation could be one of the factors behind the increase in tics. Especially for some young people already struggling with anxiety and stress.
“If you’re chronically stressed, the body starts to fail and struggles to cope and that’s what we think is happening.”
TikTok link to tics
But Prof Dale said social media could also play a role. On TikTok, for example, there are billions of posts showing people with Tourette’s or tics.
Some of the tics seen around the world are identical. The theory is that some were picked up by watching other people’s videos.
“There were similar phrases used over and over by girls across the world, in Australia and America, and that’s what made us think social media was a nexus in what was going on,” said said Professor Dale.
“And I think it became almost like a contagion where they started to imitate or do these mannerisms.
“There’s something called suggestibility, which means if you see something, you’re more likely to do it.”
Mikayla is now fully recovered from her episode.
But many people with the new tics have failed to shake them off. Prof Dale said only 20% of the patients he had seen had not yet fully recovered.
“So that means 80% continue to have these ticks, some quite severely.”
A decrease in socializing with friends and an increase in reliance on social media during the pandemic created a “perfect storm”, he said, which allowed the mess to thrive.
Originally published as TikTok hints at growing and bizarre Tourette like ‘tic’ disorder