10th Day of Christmas

By Lana Jakilazek

Key Changes was originally set up in 1997 by a group of mental health services users in Islington who felt that, while music could be of great help to them in overcoming some of the challenges in their lives, finding these services was difficult.

Starting as a weekly music group on the wards, they now provide services to all ages in intensive care, forensic and rehabilitation psychiatric in-patient settings across London, and offer an ongoing programme of tailored one-to-one and group support at their music studios. They engage around 2500 people a year who may not have been able to find a positive focus for their recovery if Key Changes was not there for them.

We had the opportunity to ask Peter, the CEO, and Christina, the Development Manager at Key Changes, questions about how music can be a powerful tool for challenging discrimination around mental health, how it brings people together and promotes healthier, safer communities.

Why would you say you as a small charity make a big difference for the individuals you support?

Despite being a small charity, Key Changes has people from 23 London boroughs attending our studios and we work in hospitals throughout Greater London as well as other locations across England. Our partnership network includes many other community and music industry organisations, training providers and work programmes. This means we can work with our clients to identify local routes for them to progress into continuing development opportunities.

Many of our past clients first engaged with us in hospital whilst recovering from a severe mental health episode, and have gone on to learn creative and technical skills that have helped them secure college places, employment within the music industry, or enabled them to become passionate musicians, writers and performers. Therefore, we know that even as a small organisation, we are having a life-changing impact for our clients.

How does your support differ from larger organisations or public services?

Small organisations are often better placed to understand the complexities of local problems, and connect with the most isolated, hardest to reach people. We work closely with health and social care professionals including nursing staff, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, continually looking for new ways to reach and support people in need.  For example, our hospital based workshops were developed in response to concerns from mental health professionals in London hospitals about a lack of services relevant to “hard to reach” patients who may be unresponsive to conventional therapies, non-compliant with medication or experiencing difficulties engaging with other activities or services.

What is one of your proudest achievements as an organisation in the last year? What are you most proud of as an organisation?

In the last year we’ve been particularly proud of our achievements in introducing new programmes for children and young people experiencing mental illnesses in hospitals in London. We wanted to respond to the latest surveys that show around 1 in 10 young people aged between 5-16 years are affected by mental health problems. Admission to psychiatric in-patient treatment is a traumatic experience for young people who are often in hospitals a long way from family, friends and school. So, this year we introduced a programme of singing, songwriting, music production and recording sessions for young patients in 3 London hospitals. The sessions provide an opportunity to bring the young people together in positive social activity and develop creative and technical skills that can be used at school, college, or other community settings, after leaving hospital.

How does your organisation tackle loneliness and/or isolation?

Like many small charities, Key Changes is able to work effectively with people who are experiencing complex and multiple disadvantages – most of our clients have faced prejudice and other barriers to employment, learning, leisure and socialising throughout their lives, which can really compound the sense of isolation that often comes with having a mental health problem. As a result, many of our clients feel misunderstood, stigmatised, isolated and have low confidence and low self-esteem. This makes it even harder to deal with debilitating conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia.

Our support enables clients to ‘plug in’ to a local network of peer support, community engagement and many other opportunities for learning and development that can support people’s long-term recovery and give them the resilience they need to meet the challenges of having a mental health condition. Music is not only a powerful tool for self-expression and exploration, but it gives people a sense of purpose, confidence from their achievements and (let’s be honest) it’s also enormous fun, and everyone needs that in life.