Charities demand apology after C4 show suggests Tourette's tics 'are contagious'

·5 min read
Scarlett Moffatt investigates the rise of Tourette's. (Channel 4)
Reality TV star Scarlett Moffatt presented Channel 4 documentary Britain's Tourette's Mystery which campaigners say was 'inaccurate and harmful' (Channel 4)

Charities have demanded apologies from Channel 4 and Scarlett Moffatt after claiming a documentary hosted by the reality star suggested that tics caused by Tourette's Syndrome (TS) could be contagious.

Tourette's Action has joined forces with other charities to lobby the broadcaster to apologise to Britain's 300,000 TS sufferers.

The show, which was broadcast on 19 July, follows Moffatt as she investigates an apparent rise in children, specifically teenage girls, presenting with tics.

Moffatt, who says she has experienced tics since childhood, questioned whether social media could be causing them to develop Tourette's, and was filmed laughing as a young girl swore during an outburst on camera.

Emma McNally, CEO of Tourette's Action, told Yahoo News UK that the documentary was "shocking and irresponsible" and contained "inaccurate, misleading and harmful information".

She said: “We work extremely hard to raise awareness about the realities of Tourette's Syndrome and we feel much of our work was undone during Channel 4’s one hour documentary. It’s shocking that a condition so prevalent is still so badly misunderstood.

“Since the show we have been contacted by so many upset people stating that the program has undone all our hard work. They have used Tourette’s as an entertainment topic, something we have been trying extremely hard to stop.

"Many are extremely concerned by the mention throughout the programme about tics being contagious and not wanting to catch them.

"We would like Channel 4 to follow up with an accurate documentary, and to apologise."

The charities say that TS was used as a "punchline", and that the documentary mocked the reality of distress for those living with TS.

Tourette's Action has demanded an apology from Channel 4 and documentary host Scarlett Moffatt (Twitter/Tourette's Action)
Tourette's Action has demanded an apology from Channel 4 and documentary host Scarlett Moffatt (Twitter/Tourette's Action)

They called for a distinction between conditions to be made clear in a follow-up programme, or by way of a formal apology.

Tics are not confined to Tourette's sufferers and can present in other conditions such as functional neurological disorder (FND) and PANDAS, but the charities say there was no clear explanation of this in the show.

The official NHS website says Tourette's is a condition that often starts in childhood and is incurable. It confirms: "Many children have tics for several months before growing out of them, so a tic does not necessarily mean your child has Tourette's syndrome."

Watch: Scarlett Moffatt called fat by teens during new documentary

McNally said: "Many think that a tic is a tic, why should this matter? It fundamentally does matter. The distinction needs to be made between tics and functional tics as treatment and outcome differ greatly. It is vital that the correct diagnosis is given to ensure that the individual is put on the correct treatment path and given the support they need.

"TS is still very misunderstood and when asked, most members of the public will associate it with swearing. Coprolalia (involuntary swearing or profane outbursts) is in fact not a criterion for diagnosis."

She added: "We need to put the record straight. We want to raise awareness to ultimately bring about acceptance. This needs to be done in an accurate, informative and sensitive way, not purely for entertainment value."

Emma McNally is CEO at Tourette's Action and says the documentary undid 'decades' of work educating the public about Tourette's Syndrome (Emma McNally/Twitter)
Emma McNally is CEO at Tourette's Action and says the documentary undid 'decades' of work educating the public about Tourette's Syndrome (Emma McNally/Twitter)

TA's pleas have been backed up by other charities including T.I.C, Tourette Scotland, Tictock Therapy, FND Action and PANS PANDAS UK.

Sarah Sharp, CEO of Tictock Therapy, said that she had been inundated with calls from TS sufferers saying they had been asked by employers whether they should be coming to work, as colleagues may 'catch' tics from them, and from worried parents whose children are being excluded from friendship groups due to fears that their condition is contagious.

"The entire documentary was lacking any form of education, and anything it did show was damaging and has caused uproar for our tic community. My emails, phone and website have been nonstop since the airing of the documentary, questioning if pupils will catch tics from their friend. From parents heartbroken as their child’s friends have messaged saying they don’t want to hang out anymore and even a company asking anonymously if it’s safe for their employees to have the person with Tourette’s working there."

Scarlett Moffatt at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Birmingham, to launch the forthcoming Crufts Dog Show. (Photo by Jacob King/PA Images via Getty Images)
Scarlett Moffatt interviewed young people suffering tics and was seen laughing as one girl swore on camera (Getty)

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Kyla McDonald from Tourette Scotland said: “We’ve battled to stop Tourette’s being used as a punchline and for our community to get the understanding and support they need and we feel that, in the space of one hour, much of that work has been undone and we now have a brand new stigma to overcome.

"People with Tourette’s deal with a difficult, often distressing, physically and mentally painful condition every day. It can be a very isolating condition and the last thing they need is for people to think they can somehow ‘catch’ it from them. Our members have to fight for medical care, for assistance in schools, and to be accepted by their peers and society at large. It shouldn’t be so hard and the narrative of Britain’s Tourette’s Mystery has only made it harder.”

Yahoo News UK has approached Channel 4 for comment but received no response.

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