Millions of girls with instant access to our culture’s most viral (and dangerous) behaviors and beliefs are currently manifesting the results. Their sicknesses are a clear sign that our society is sick. In order to treat them and us, we’ll have to admit how the disease spreads, admit the connection between mental illness and gender confusion, and keep them away from clinics and smartphone apps where the disease is celebrated.
One of the strangest stories of the last couple of years is how teenage girls have been stricken with facial tics after browsing the video-sharing app TikTok. Earlier this month, Azeen Ghorayshi published a deep dive on the strange phenomenon in The New York Times. Looking back at the puzzling explosion of TikTok tics during the pandemic, she reported that contagious outbreaks of strange behavior are not new and have a technical name: “mass psychogenic illness.”
For example, long before TikTok, back in 2011, 18 girls at a high school in Le Roy, New York, broke into twitches and head snapping after one of their peers suffered a sudden spasm. The incident became a legend in medical literature. History is full of stories of patients, “mostly women,” who seemed to catch “tremors, seizures, paralysis, and even blindness” from each other like contagious diseases. Such mass psychogenic events used to be limited to real-life social circles, but social media has “dissolved the boundaries” that once kept outbreaks “geographically contained.” Now anyone with a smartphone can “catch” such behaviors.
Most interesting about Ghorayshi’s piece is the correlation between social media-induced mental illnesses and LGBT identities. In fact, she wrote, doctors at a recent conference in Switzerland admitted that “a surprising percentage of their patients with the TikTok tics identified as transgender or nonbinary.” Neurologists also told her that a “disproportionate number of gender-diverse adolescents” have developed “sudden tics.”