University of ArizonaNorton School of Family and Consumer Sciences

Case of N.Y. teens' tics makes psychological sense

Dr. Charles Raison, CNN health's mental health expert, is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

When I teach psychiatry to medical residents, the first thing I tell them is that patients' stories always make sense. No matter how bizarre a person's symptoms might be, our lives follow a human logic, and they follow a medical logic. When a story doesn't make sense, it means you don't know the real story.

Medical stories that don't make sense are often big news makers, precisely because they don't make sense. Sometimes, they titillate our hunger for the unexplained. Sometimes, they capture our attention because the medical uncertainty frightens us.

A current and highly publicized example of this phenomenon can be seen in the case of a group of teenagers attending a single school in Le Roy, New York, who have developed strange movement disorders in rapid succession. Out of the blue, previously normal young people have had their lives devastated by uncontrollable tics, gesticulations and embarrassing verbal outbursts. And no one can find a medical explanation for this horrible state of affairs.

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