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Mental Health vs Tourette Syndrome

Perhaps some of you will relate to the statement of my introduction. If you do, I would like to share the journey I have taken, because the simple fact is… I was wrong.

Tourette syndrome is neurological. It is not mental health. I’m certain there are those who have heard me say it, and not in a simple teaching way, but in a manner of persistent obligation, I felt I had toward myself. When I heard people mistakenly cite the misconception that Tourette is a mental health disorder, I became offended, perhaps even a bit agitated. Mental health comes with its own stigma’s and it’s hard enough fighting our own battles. Being accused of some form of mental illness made me angry. I spoke out and was adamant that people understand…because I didn’t want to be considered under such negative connotations. I NEEDED for people to understand that I wasn’t….that…

The assumption of my mental illness was like some parasitical thing I had to quickly brush off. I could say it all I wanted. “Tourette is neurological.” Perhaps you’ve been there too.

Here’s the problem with the way I was thinking…

Let’s not defend one condition at the expense of discriminating another.

If we are overly adamant and defensive of the idea of mental health, are we not adding to the stigmas?

Perhaps the real question is, “Do we have to defend ourselves from something that isn’t offensive?” People break in a myriad of different ways. The mind can, just as the body, succumb to illness. Why put the body, the mind, and the brain into categories, because when we do, we are putting people into a higher and lower class. Let’s not allow ourselves to get away with being part of the problem when no illness wins any beauty contest. We are not greater or lesser. We are not Tourette syndrome. We are people.

Anti-depressants are sometimes referred to as “Happy pills.” Jokes are made about mental illness, but just because that mindset is mainstream, does it mean we need to encourage it?

Tourette syndrome, 90% of the time, comes with comorbid mental health conditions. Maybe by putting mental health down, we are putting ourselves down. I have OCD as well as a short list of other conditions of the mind, which makes it ironic that I was defensive of the mental health misconception.

Maybe we can spend less time drawing lines in the sand, and more time considering that perhaps, the debate of one condition or another isn’t necessary.

This blog is a lesson to me as well, as I have been part of the problem. The important lesson being, I don’t have to be.


By Melissa C. Water


  1. Andrea Boulden says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! I volunteered for many years for Tourette Canada and also for PCMA Parents for Cihildren’s Mental Health. Like mostly every person with TS, My son had Tourette syndrome and comorbid mental illnesses so I was connected to both worlds. I advocated hard at PCMA to fight the stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness but then in the Tourette world i felt some of the worst stigma ever! People were adament that it is Neurological, not mental illness as though that is better! Well, ADHD, OCD, Anxiety, Depression ARE mental illlnesses., it is no better or worse than neurological. It is all in tte brain!! I am so glad that you wrote this!!

    • Hi Andrea
      I’m glad this article resonated with you
      Good on you for your determination to speak out!
      Thanks for the comment. Much appreciated

  2. Leslie Dunbar says:

    A beautiful perspective Melissa!!! I am so proud of you!

  3. Jim Fitton says:

    I think it’s difficult to draw a distinction between neurology and mental health. I have TD and ADHD and a few Obsessive behaviours. I have often been dismissed as weird, odd, eccentric , and I know how socially isolating these conditions are. I have a level of anxiety but not depression. My whole package probably presents as a mental health condition, and I’m ok with that. On the other hand, TD is seen by some clinicians as a movement disorder!

  4. Tourette Syndrome is a neurological condition involving the brain, however, it is not a mental illness. I don’t know why people were saying it was.
    Mental illness is bipolar and schizophrenia. OCD and ADD are not a criteria for Mental ilness. I have TS AND add and OCD, but i don’t have a mental illness. Yes, both of these conditions do originate from the brain, but in a different way.

  5. This is top notch Melissa. Did you read this? I always wondered if depression was genetic.

  6. Thank you for this article. I’m making a short video on Tourettes and, before, I would have thought to make it part of my “Mental Health Awareness” video subject. However, I have children diagnosed with Autism and I know that’s not a mental illness, but a neurological disorder that also has co-occurring mental health illnesses. So I thought it best to dig a little deeper and thankfully I did.

    Your article helped me put it into perspective and I certainly wouldn’t want to add to any stigma when I’m attempting to do the opposite.

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