Belinda Black is a Registered Mental Health Nurse, and a non-executive director of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of health and social care in England. She began her nursing career in 1981, and over the following forty years has worked in two large secure hospitals, a regional secure unit, as a court liaison officer at a secure unit for mentally disordered offenders, as the CEO of a Sheffield-based social care charity, and with the National Institute For Health and Social Care Excellence (NICE) to develop national guidelines for the delivery of health and social care. Belinda lives in Huddersfield.
A Place for Lost Souls: A Nurse's Stories of Hope and Despair from a 1980s Psychiatric Hospital
"Ultimately, my experiences as a mental health nurse have taught me that we should judge less and open our hearts more."
Belinda Black was just seventeen years old when she began working as a nursing assistant at the large and foreboding 'madhouse', as it was then known to the villagers of her hometown in the north of England. Following in the footsteps of her mother, she went on to spend a decade caring for patients with widely varying mental health problems, all locked up together and out of view of society. Some had suffered unimaginable trauma, several had violent and volatile tendencies, but amongst this Belinda found moments of joy and even friendship with her patients.
But A Place for Lost Souls is also about the other psychiatric nurses there, from those like Sister Kane who suffered from depression and found treating others a welcome distraction, to others like Belinda's friend Sally, who always had a sense of humour however dark the situation.
Together, against a backdrop of rattling keys, clanging iron doors, and wards that smelled of disinfectant and stale smoke, these people came together to get through another day. Until the hospital, along with many others, had its doors closed in 1991 - the biggest change to mental healthcare in NHS history.
The result is a moving, shocking but ultimately life-affirming account of a unique and noble profession, told from the frontlines. Amongst so much sadness and distress, and despite witnessing some of the darkest corners of human suffering, Belinda finds hope: in the camaraderie of her colleagues, in the patients she cares for, and in her unwavering belief that even people who have committed violent crimes are fundamentally good.