A transgender UK politician, Islington Labour Councillor Osh Gantly, became the borough’s first dedicated Mental Health Champion at a full Islington Council meeting on Thursday 15 October.
Cllr Gantly plans to investigate why Islington has the worst mental health record in Britain, with the country’s highest diagnosed prevalence of serious mental illness and the capital’s highest number of depression diagnoses.
This “has concerned the council for a long time. We don’t understand why it is. We need to uncover the real issues”, said Cllr Gantly in an interview.
“The Borough Mental Health Champion is a new role that the council is creating” Gantly said, as Islington mirrors Jeremy Corbyn’s recent move in appointing Luciana Berger as the first shadow cabinet member dedicated to mental health.
Local and national campaigners have been vocal about Islington’s problems for some time. Richard Colwill, from mental health charity Sane, explains: “Islington is an area that has been neglected. In a borough with such a mix of affluent and deprived areas there are likely to be high levels of mental health problems”.
The Cripplegate Foundation, a youth mental illness charity, agreed: “the evidence demonstrates that the high rates of people suffering from mental health issues have to do with poverty and inequality”. Their director Kristina Glenn, called the current situation in Islington “appalling”.
Gantly will also work to combat the “fundamentally wrong” perception that being transgender signifies a mental health problem.
“I absolutely get that being trans can have an impact on people’s mental health, but it is not in itself a mental health issue,” said Gantly.
“I’m all for trans people having the support that they need. But the idea that they need a medical diagnosis to get their gender recognition certificate, I think is appalling and that needs to change”, said Gantly.
“I think there’s a lot of people, not trans, who would benefit from mental health support with different aspects of life transitions,” Gantly said.
Referring to the broader reasons for Islington’s situation Gantly noted, “It could be that Islington is the best at uncovering mental health issues and that’s why our figures are so high, or it could be that we’re the worst at providing for people with mental health issues.”
Picture credit: Emily Thornberry
This article was updated on November 6 to reflect the fact that Gantly is not the only transgender politician to have been elected in the UK.