- Psychiatrists in Germany have seen an increase in patients with tics.
- They say this is being “caught” through social media.
- The term “mass social media-induced illness” has been developed to describe this phenomenon.
Psychiatrists have identified a new “Tourette-like” illness being spread through social media.
The “mass social media-induced illness” (MSMI) – more traditionally called a mass sociogenic illness, but with a new term being created to fit the new condition – is causing people to develop tics “caught” from social media videos of people ticcing.
A spike in patients presenting with functional tics has been attributed to the rise in social media content showing people ticcing, a group of psychiatrists in Germany have found.
The recent study from experts at the Hanover Medical School, Germany, explains that an increase in patients struggling with tics is positively correlated to a proliferation of videos on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube of people presenting with Tourette’s syndrome.
The paper, published by the Oxford University Press, discusses the German internet fame of Jan Zimmermann, a YouTuber with 2.23 million subscribers on his channel Gewitter im Komf (Thunderstorm in Brain), who states he has Tourette’s syndrome.
The clue that this illness was being “caught” from social media was that the tics were identical to Zimmermann’s.
The mostly verbal tics included people saying “heil Hitler,” “Du bist häßlich” (you are ugly) and “pommes” (chips).
The study states that “a remarkably high number of young patients has been referred to our specialized Tourette outpatient clinic presenting with symptoms closely resembling the ones Jan Zimmermann shows in his videos.”
Crucially, however, the presented condition is not of Tourette’s but functional tics, also known as Functional Movement Disorder.
The primary difference between this “Tourette’s-like” MSMI and Tourette’s is the MSMI comes on very suddenly and often later in life (whereas Tourette’s syndrome often onsets in early childhood), present as a countless range of tics – rather than a few specific ones – the study explains.
The tics are prone to be mimicked and can be “caught” from one person to another – even in the traditional form of the condition. This is why social media is posing a new-age problem.
The study notes that whilst this is a sociogenic illness – and recommendations from psychiatrists do state you should seek medical support for this should it become difficult to manage – it could also be exacerbated by a “culture-bound stress reaction” to COVID-19 and eco-anxiety.
The study raises concern for how this may put health services under strain from the pandemic and long waiting lists for treatment.