‘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.
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.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Belinda about her accidental career, the stories she has collected, the relationships and camaraderie of her career and the value if keeping compassion at the heart of everything we do.