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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is Social Media Fueling A Twitching Disorder?

Seventeen teenage girls, a teenage boy and a woman have developed mysterious physical and verbal tics in the small rural community of LeRoy, in upstate New York.

And experts say that social media may be helping to spread the disorder– a number of the afflicted girls created videos of themselves exhibiting symptoms, and posted them online, asking for help with a diagnosis. Experts believe that susceptible individuals who watch the videos online could begin to exhibit symptoms.

What’s Behind The Problem

Dr. David Lichter, a professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has has treated a number of the sufferers, and explained to Here & Now‘s Robin Young how the disorder spreads.

“If you have stress and conflicts and anxieties of your own, and you see people behaving in a certain way, you may be prone to adopting that same physical symptom,” he said.

The syndrome has been diagnosed as a “conversion disorder,” which means that the brain is “actually subconsciously mimicking the twitching felt by others,” Discovery reports.

Dr. Lichter said that all the patients presenting with the disorder have had serious underlying stresses in their lives, which makes an underlying susceptibility to the disorder. But he says that treatment can be effective.

“You provide psychological support, counseling and therapy. And if there are underlying disorders, like depression or anxiety, you might treat those with medications. But the important thing is to make sure that the diagnosis is well understood by the well whole family, not just the patient, but the parent,” he said.

Health officials are researching whether environmental factors might be playing a role, but so far tests have been negative.


  • Dr. David Lichter, a professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He has treated a number of the sufferers.

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  • Stacey

    A good friend of mine had terrible neurological problems that were diagnosed as “conversion disorder.” Expert after expert, for years, essentially told her “you’re just a girl and bad at stress.” Eventually, an awake doctor found a real medical cause and shes responding very well to treatment — she’s getting her life back. But I will never trust the way doctors just ignore all evidence when the patient is a girl. The weird thing about the medical professionals are doing fine – when I screw up, I get fired. But doctors do whatever they want.

    • Robert Long View

      u get the best medical care from a doctor, say family physician that knows your history, not a specialist… .

  • Kate Quick

    You asked Dr. Lichter about the spill twenty years ago near the New York town, but didn’t ask about the school being heated by natural gas derived by fracking.  Did you not know that there was a fracking fluid spill on school grounds this past July, only a few months before the people started twitching?  Did the natural gas industry pay you to not ask about this, or am I somehow more informed than the reporter covering the story?

  • Alex

    What about the fact that the school is fracking on school property to heat the school, and that there was a spill on the athletics field in July!? No mention of that? We know what spilled back in the seventies, over a mile away, but we have no idea what chemicals spilled on the athletics field a few months ago (killing a bunch of trees). Why won’t the school let in multiple independent testers?

    • Carinya

       Alex, if you want to know what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing and have the patience to scroll through 32 pages of federal documentation, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority Staff put out a paper in April 2011 titled “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing”. I found it by looking on Google. there is all sorts of information on fracking, which I am sure you know. I really like the videos of Dr. Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University who specializes in fracturing engineering. Very clear, concise, and scary.

      • Robert Long View

        i thought VP Cheney, during G W Bush Administration, negotiated a MOU to keep those fracking chemicals secret?  thank goodness for the gov’t investigation, i sure will Google search for the results… .

  • Stacey

    Also, the expert on the show said that Trichloroethylene would not cause twitching – but a quick glance at wikipedia shows that some doctors have linked Trichloroethylene to symptoms that resemble Parkinsons disease. Huh.

  • Carla

    I just wanted to point out that the root of the word “hysteria” comes from the greek word for uterus/womb (hence hysterectomy). When I hear the word it is always accompanied by assumptions about gender.

  • Robert Long View

    i await further disclosure on this phenomenon.  Here is what my Google search yielded: 
    “However, the continuing concern of some activists who oppose hydraulic fracturing is the lack of information really provided. According to Weston Wilson in Affirming Gasland, “about 50% or so of these MSDS sheets lack a specific chemical name, and some MSDS sheets simply claim ‘proprietary’ status and list none of the chemicals in that container.”[76] As a result, some activists are calling for specific disclosure of chemicals used, such as the Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number and specific chemical formulas, and increased access to such information. In his State of the Union address for 2012, Barack Obama stated his intention to force fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use.[77]“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bobby-Fontaine/1433889990 Bobby Fontaine

     Le Roy Jr/Sr High School: 1985 aerial photo shows dump next to girls softball field

    The article I wrote at the link below (pdf download) contains an aerial photo from 1985 showing a large dump next to the girls softball field at Le Roy Middle/High School in upstate New York. The school has a growing number of girl students who have recently developed chronic tics and Tourette’s type symptoms. There are also reports of girls in other towns in upstate New York with the same symptoms, some who are reported to play softball on teams that travel to other schools to compete. Details are provided in the article. Feel free to use the information provided any way you see fit to help resolve this matter for those poor girls.


  • leslie robin

    Robin–at the end of your show you asked about the
    effects of social media on youth mental health, and I thought I should bring
    your attention to the 3rd annual SYS Spread The Love-a-thon event
    that is actually being held THIS Sunday (2/12) in Lexington, Kentucky.


    SYS stands for Stop Youth Suicide—it’s a small 501(c)3
    nonprofit founded by my mentor, Dr. Hatim Omar who runs the Adolescent Medicine
    Clinic at the University of Kentucky. 
    Three years ago we started an outreach/prevention event for high school
    students to use the communication technology they love so much to increase
    self-esteem and awareness about youth mental health and suicide.


    Spread The Love-a-thon participants use their own cell
    phones and/or laptops to call/email/FB message/text “lifelines” to friends and
    family; each “lifeline” consists of 3 genuine compliments that are specific to
    the recipient and some information and statistics about youth mental health in


    We chose to host the event on the Sunday before
    Valentine’s Day, a holiday which despite being all about love can make people
    feel pretty isolated.  Turns out feeling
    disconnected from others is a major cause of depression in teens.  Spending two hours telling friends and family
    why they’re great helps to show high schoolers how much love they really have
    in their lives, even if they, like omg, don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.


    “Spread the Love, Save a Life” is our motto–cheesy but
    ya never know whose day might have been going really badly before you called.
    Last year over a thousand lifelines were made, and that’s not counting how many
    more were passed on by inspired recipients. 
    That’s a lot of love and good karma to be putting out there right before
    the greeting card industry’s favorite holiday ;)

    The kids really enjoy the event—turns out it feels pretty nice to make peoples’
    day.  We encourage them to make lifelines
    on friends’ Facebook walls to increase visibility and awareness.  Maybe one day the Spread The Love-a-thon will
    go viral and you’ll see lifelines all over the place on Valentine’s…


    So while there are many ways in which social media adversely
    affects kids’ mental health, there are ways to use it to increase self-esteem
    and awareness about depression and mental health.


    Check out our website for more info!

    • Lesliearobin

      oops sorry for the weird formatting.  long day. :)

  • Anonymous

    Doctors are saying there are no known toxins that can cause the
    types of obvious physical symptoms exhibited by the affected Le Roy students. But then, they don’t know what kinds of toxic stew the shale gas companies are using. 

    There are six gas wells on the Leroy school grounds – and there were two reported leaks a month or two before the girls’ symptoms started. Has anyone tested the fluids in those wells to see what health consequences they might cause? Not a chance. Were kids and families warned to stay clear of areas impacted? Did they even know the leaks took place?

    Is information being withheld? Of course. The gas companies are employing mlitary psych ops to control public opinion and the flow of information – and any leaseholder who hopes for help with remediation is pressured to sign a document promising not to disclose what happened. 

    Environment just released a report documenting that out of 4,596 Marcellus
    Shale wells drilled in PA between 2008 and 2011, gas operators accumulated
    3,355 violations of environmental laws. Those are reported violations. How many
    spills, deliberate leaks, “accidental dumpings” of fracking fluid
    have taken place since the drilling started? Where? When? We have no way of
    knowing – and the fines are currently so low that the gas companies are
    apparently finding it less expensive to risk fines than to make sure fluids are
    handled safely and responsibly.


    yes, nerve damage has been reported in areas with shale gas drilling. Given the
    toxic cocktails of unreported chemicals, any kind of nerve damage or other
    physical reaction would be possible after exposure to a fracking fluid spill


    who withholds or conceals information about shale gas violations, spills, or
    leaks should be found guilty of public endangerment and should serve time.  And any
    corporation with repeat safety violations should lose the right to drill and
    should have its wells impounded.  

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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