Some of those already diagnosed with a tic disorder, such as Tourette’s syndrome, noticed an increase in symptoms during lockdown.
But a mystery which has gripped doctors is the marked increase in sudden onset tics in children who hadn’t previously experienced them - particularly in teenage girls.
In a new Channel 4 documentary, Britain’s Tourette’s Mystery: Scarlett Moffatt Investigates, on Tuesday at 10pm, the ex-Gogglebox star travels around the UK to delve into the issue, meeting some of those recently diagnosed with the condition, scientists grappling with the new phenomenon, and a group of Tourette’s TikTok influencers.
This is a rather personal journey for 31-year-old Moffatt as she developed facial tics herself when she was 12. For two years she experienced tics that were a result of suffering from Bell’s palsy, a time she describes as “really scary”.
“When I was at school and I had the facial tics, I’d try and suppress them so I didn’t stand out, which is basically like holding a hiccup in. As soon as I’d get home they’d just all come out.
“It was just really scary. It’s scary as a teenager anyway, because your body’s changing, and you have all these hormones, but when you feel like you’re not in control of them, I just remember feeling: ‘God, is this ever gonna stop? Am I ever gonna be in control again?’”
A doctor Moffatt speaks to for the documentary tells her that, ordinarily, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with traditional Tourette’s. However, he and his colleagues have seen a rise in young girls presenting with tic disorders, suggesting this may have been caused by loneliness, isolation and anxiety during the pandemic.
“Whereas young girls tend to be more social butterflies, and then they, all of a sudden, were confined in the house.
“During lockdown, rightly so, everyone’s attention was on the vulnerable and elderly, because at that time that was who needed our support.
“But I think in doing that, the children and teenagers sort of were left to their own devices, and I feel like, actually, we didn’t realise the impact that it would have on young people.”