Key Changes: A mental health organisation that changes lives with music
Redefining who you are through music
Whether it’s through the pure physical release of a night out raving; a well-deserved self-care headphones session with your favourite mix or playlist; a day diving deep into your own creations, or any other sonic activity in between… We all know much music can help alleviate or relieve the pressures and stresses of mental health.
Few of us understand this – or take it to such extraordinary and inspiring levels – quite as implicitly, though, as the mental health organization Key Changes…
Established in 1997, the UK-wide charity have made this their mission. Not just alleviate or relieve mental health issues with music, but to genuinely change lives, empower people and put their clients on paths they would never have imagined.
With a priority focus on under-represented and harder-to-reach communities, Key Changes helps people understand themselves from a fresh perspective. Their programmes help artists to gain confidence, build resilience, learn new skills and find new life structure and routine. In some cases they help to find employment, too.
Key Changes programmes are community-based and last either three or 12-weeks. In both instances, the focus is done in the similar inspiring ways; it’s about channeling your inner artist.
“Being able to present themselves as an artist is one of the lynchpins of Key Changes,” explains Ishani Jasmin. A Volunteer Manager at Key Changes, Ishani explains how their programme structure works. One-to-one artist development sessions with professional producers, performances at open mic events, bio writing and guidance on marketing and eventual release on the Key Changes label are all part of their programmes.
“A lot of the work we do surrounds the presentation of the artist identity,” continues Ishani. “Being able to reframe the mental health journey in the context of an artist is incredibly pivotal as it reframes their experience as a positive thing and allows them to reclaim their own journey. I think this is really important for them.”
“It was really interesting,” confirms Bonnie Helen, a Key Changes volunteer. She joins Ishani on the video call as a colleague who is currently spearheading a new series of open mic events in her hometown Birmingham, but is also in the inspiring position where she can explain both sides of the organisation’s service… Prior to becoming a volunteer, Bonnie had originally connected with the charity in need of support.
At the time she’d been involved in musical theatre but her anxiety and bipolar affective disorder had reached such low levels that she could no longer perform. “It was just awful,” she explains. “I was really low. My mind wasn’t in a good place at all. I was under home treatment. I’d never imagined I’d be doing what I do now.”
Less than a year later, the changes in Bonnie’s life are immeasurable. She’s written and recorded two songs, has redeveloped her role in musical theatre and is currently developing her own release on the Key Changes label. All the while helping others who are similar situations to where she was last summer.
“I had to look back at where I was and then look at where I am now and really appreciate my own musical journey,” Bonnie explains. “I had to think about who’s inspired me personally and what artists have inspired me. It made me really think of myself from an artistic perspective.”
Identity is a powerful tool for Key Changes programmes. As described on their website as ‘a new way of knowing yourself’ and ‘redefining who you are’, this re-boosted exploration of self is key to helping people break away from the brain-racing loops of anxiety, the confidence-crushing feelings of depression and the volatile intensity of bipolar disorders. Whether music is used purely as a therapeutic technique or the client wants to develop that into an aspiring artist profile they’re provided with the same music industry toolkit and resources which can build up to a release on the Key Changes label.
“The label started as a means to enable people to showcase their work,” explains Ishani who joined the charity in 2019 around the same time the label launched. We wanted our community to be able to have a professional way of sharing their creations rather than just sending a file via email. It enables them to reach out to a radio station, for example, or a promoter. Or even just down to sharing it with their friends and family on social media.”
Digging deep into the label vaults on both Bandcamp and Spotify is recommended. Ranging from delicate, dreamy folk to sharp-tongued bars delivered over hard grime beats, Key Changes as a label is wholly unique and an incredible place to find real music and authentic expression. Follow the links and you’ll see that many of the artists have had repeat releases and started to develop their own profiles. An exciting testament to Key Changes’ positive work, it’s also a backdrop to another incredibly important aspect at the core of the organisation; community.
Like anything built for meaningful reasons, community is at the heart of Key Changes’ operations. As part of their programme all clients are brought together once a week for an hour of Musicians’ Wellbeing Network that focuses on well-being to share their experiences and ideas. “It enables people to have productive and interesting conversations each week about different aspects of mental health,” Ishani explains. “Things like CBT techniques or talking about impostor syndrome, they really go everywhere. People have made requests of what they would like, it’s been a really interesting journey.”
Another critical part of the journey is of course the performance aspect. A puzzle piece that brings Key Changes multi-faceted services together, the open mic sessions, concerts and live collaborations create situations for artists that would be previously unimaginable due to their mental health. “Delivering a live set is something that is not easy to do,” says Ishani. “It’s not easy to get those opportunities either, so creating live spaces like this gives artists a safe space to experience that with their friends and peers.”
Taking place regularly at Pop Brixton, London the next open mic event takes place on May 26. More events around the UK are expected in the near future. “We’re going to be getting open mics all over the place pretty soon. It’s going to be really positive,” Ishani confirms. “They’re always been such an uplifting experience. They’ve been an smash hit, so I’m really excited to bring them everywhere.”
In the meantime, Key Changes continues to support as many as 3500 people per year with their programmes, empowering them with a creative voice and a safe space to explore their own artistic side and understand themselves in a completely different way. Combatting mental health with a holistic music experience that provides real tools and skills that work in today’s industry and day-to-day life, Bonnie’s journey is a great example of how life changing Key Changes can be.
“To have the opportunity to write my own songs, to work with a producer, be in a studio, have that artist development training and the well-being calls… It’s been incredible,” Bonnie smiles. “It’s helped my nerves, it’s helped my anxiety, the racing thoughts. All these sorts of things that I’ve suffered with for many years. I’ve always really found music’s really helped me but Key Changes has been helped me focus that and now I can help others do the same. It’s been brilliant.”