Volunteers for Manchester’s student-run listening service tell The Mancunion why they joined
It’s after midnight, the students are sat quietly drinking cups of tea and maybe having a biscuit, or two. A shrill noise breaks the quiet, it’s the phone. One of them confidently leans forward to pick it up, ‘Hello Nightline’ …
University isn’t an easy period in many people’s lives. It can be really enjoyable, but it comes with its own set of pressures such as, moving away from home, exam stress, housing issues and money troubles – the list is endless. Proof of the difficulties plaguing many people during this period in their lives is demonstrated by a recent NUS study finding that 20% of students identified themselves as having a mental health problem. But even worse are the fears revealed by recent Priory Group research that many students suffer in silence and don’t feel they can share their problems, for whatever reason. This is why organisations such as Nightline play a vital role in helping with student wellbeing. Nightline represents a voice at the end of the phone, a voice that will neither judge nor advise. They recognise that sometimes all that is needed is having somebody to talk to and for someone to listen.
Volunteers are not trained in any official counselling capacity; they are all students who volunteer their time because they believe that the service is of vital benefit to the university community. The volunteers receive rigorous training so that they are equipped to handle any call in a calm and empathetic manner. The training is completed over a number of weeks and allows for prospective volunteers to learn about a range of concerns students may face and gives the opportunity to listen to speakers on topics ranging from student issues, mental health, and gender identity.
I’ve been given the opportunity to speak to some of the volunteers and find out why it is important for them to be involved and what the service actually does. Due to the confidential nature of Nightline none of the identities of the people giving their stories will be revealed however they are all committed members of the service.
Why did you join Nightline?
Volunteer A – When I started university it was my first time away from home without the security provided by my friends and family. There were times I really enjoyed myself but at others I felt alone and down but didn’t feel I could talk to the people I was still getting to know. At the time I didn’t feel my problems were worth bothering Nightline about, so I didn’t call, but ended up getting involved as a volunteer because the ethos of being a non-judgemental, non-advisory and confidential listening service really attracted me. For me, Nightline represents the type of safe listening space I once needed. Now as a volunteer I know that anyone can and should call if they want, however large or small they might view their problems Nightline is there to listen.
Volunteer B – In my first year I rang Nightline when I was suffering from mild depression. Earlier that day I’d gone to see a Doctor but I really didn’t feel he understood my problems and how difficult I was finding it to motivate myself. However when I rang Nightline they seemed to really understand and were happy to listen. It was great to have a friendly voice that was on my side. I later decided to join as I thought it would be a great opportunity to help others and return the support Nightline offered me when I was feeling vulnerable.
Why do you think providing a service like Nightline is important? (A service for students, run by students)
Volunteer C – I think that it’s important to have someone available for the people who need it at the most isolated times when everyone else is probably asleep. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to or someone to care about what you’re going through, just having someone to talk to can make a big difference!
Being students ourselves, I feel that we can relate to our callers better than adult volunteers from other organisations. Other organisations might not be as familiar with student issues or things discussed. I like to think that being staffed by student volunteers means our callers feel more at ease talking to us (well, hopefully). Having such a service just generally improves the mental wellbeing of students, which is extremely important for their time at university.
Why is Nightline useful, given the fact they can’t give advice?
Volunteer A – We aren’t qualified in any formal capacity, thus making it difficult to sanction giving advice. We are a large group of students who want to help people and who have the ability to empathise. We only know as much as the caller chooses to tell us, so don’t know the specific situations callers are in. Therefore if we gave advice it could be irrelevant or potentially cause harm to the caller and the person offering it. Also one of the aims of Nightline is to provide a uniform service so that students on any given night can call and receive the same standard of professionalism and helpfulness every time they call; if we started offering advice then this aim wouldn’t be achievable.
Sometimes though it’s not about people wanting advice at all, what’s needed is just to let all those bottled up feelings out to someone who’s willing to listen. It also helps that we’re strictly confidential, non-judgmental and anonymous, so our callers don’t have to worry about opening up to us about anything and everything. Finally, although we can’t give advice, we are allowed to give information so people can phone asking for things such as options of who to contact for student related services, taxi numbers and more.
Why is it important to maintain confidentiality?
Volunteer C – We understand there are some things it can be hard to discuss. It may have taken a lot of courage for someone to call and we want to ensure no matter what is said, it will remain safe. We are taught from the beginning that confidentiality is a foundation of Nightline, and will never disclose the content of your call to third parties. This aims to create a trusting relationship between caller and volunteer, where callers feel comfortable sharing anything they want to get off their chest. Volunteers will not discuss calls with their friends, as this would be a violation of the confidential, non-judgemental service we pride ourselves in delivering. This confidentiality covers to the identities of volunteers as well. As individuals can’t be recognised with Nightline, we have a mascot – Noel the Nightline Bear as the face of the organisation, who can be seen around campus, advertising the service.
What happens when a person calls?
Volunteer D – When a person calls Nightline, they will be put through to one of our volunteers. The volunteer will discuss anything the caller wishes, for as long as they like. Our hope is that talking one on one, with someone in a similar position to you could provide that little extra support, that some may find difficult to come by in their student years. For those who don’t fancy talking on the phone, we also provide E-listening, offering the same service via email.
What kind of things can people call for?
Volunteer D – People can call for absolutely anything. Our volunteers are happy to listen to anything you want to talk about, for as long as you want. We understand students can have a hard time, and we offer a non-judgemental space to discuss your thoughts and feelings. If there’s a particular issue you are having a hard time dealing with we’ll talk it through with you. Common topics include stress, low mood, money, relationships or drugs and alcohol, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Equally if you just want a chat, or can’t sleep, that’s fine too! We’ll never tell you what to do, though we can offer information if you ask.
Whatever is on your mind, we are here to listen, open 8pm-8am every night during term time. The number is on the back of your library card. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the service and student well-being in Manchester you can find Noel the Nightline mascot on Facebook – Noel Nightline Bear or Twitter – @MancNightline
The author of this piece has chosen to be anonymous.