Chris Woods, Nightline’s External Coordinator, talks to LS about what it’s really like to work at Nightline and the issues they deal with on a daily basis.
Students are under constant pressure throughout their university life: there are the stresses that are a direct result of wanting to do well in the degree you chose, dilemmas about the balance between careers and love, emotions surrounding leaving home and sudden independence, guilt and frustration about sexuality and lust.
There are also issues with bullying, addiction and struggles with mental health ranging from eating disorders and self- harm to chronic depression and schizophrenia – often aggravated by one or all of the above.
For the past 40 years, student volunteers have manned the Leeds Nightline phones every night of term, listening to other students with such problems. Nightline has a simple philosophy: the service is a confidential, anonymous, non-judgmental, non-directional and non-advisory listening service delivered by students.
The peer led nature of the service is imperative to its success. University is a time of many changes and challenges and being able to talk to a peer, someone who understands what you’re going through and can empathise can, and does, make a difference. Students can talk to Nightline about anything they like because it is confidential and anonymous. They won’t judge and won’t tell students what to do but they will listen to any problem.
However, the majority of students who come through Leeds never hear of the society and don’t know what it offers. Despite this, Nightline regularly receives upwards of 10 calls per night. Some last five minutes, most last in excess of an hour. So what is Leeds Nightline and who is sitting at the end of the phone?
Nightline provides support for all students in Leeds and its phone numbers appear on the back of student cards at the three major universities in the city. It is also publicised at Leeds College of Art, Leeds College of Music and The Northern School of Contemporary Dance. In total the service currently covers the night time welfare of approximately 90,000 students.
The Listening Line is one of four services it offers, with others being The Information Line, an e-listening chat service and e-mail support for Leeds students studying abroad.
Several volunteers are on duty every night to man the four services and support each other. The phones and computers are switched on at 8pm and the shift starts. What happens next is impossible to predict. It could be two minutes before the first call comes or it could be three hours. Either way, the phone lines stay open until 8am with people able to call all through the night.
An extensive selection and training process goes into creating a Nightline volunteer. They recruit twice a year in October and March and aim to train between 60 and 90 new volunteers each academic year. Applicants who make it through the interviews start the training process soon after. This takes two consecutive full weekends to cover all they need to know, taught by experienced volunteers, and this is followed by assessments to ensure trainees are competent. Supervised shifts throughout the night ensure help is it hand to new members on their first few shifts.
The majority of the calls are from stressed students or from people dealing with difficult situations such as break ups or issues in families however a small portion of the calls that are from suicidal students.
The question of how Nightline deals with these difficult calls is multi-faceted. Firstly, there is a difference between a student having had suicidal thoughts and students making an attempt on their life during a call. Both are incredibly serious however, for the latter Nightline responds in a scripted way to ensure consistency and clarity. It makes the caller aware of Nightline’s abilities to call for assistance if they choose. In the case of the former, Nightline follows the same principals as always, actively listening to the student.
The other side to calls of a very serious nature is the welfare of the volunteer. After any call of a serious nature, a support network is brought into action to safeguard those who were involved.
A Nightline spokesperson said: “We just want to reassure all students that when life gets complicated we will always be there to listen and not lecture. We will not apologise for being non-advisory and consequently protecting the caller’s right to choose what is best for them in their unique situation. We will always respect their anonymity, confidentiality and we will not judge them for whatever they decide to do.”
Phone lines are open from 8pm until 8am every night of term including weekends –the numbers to call are: 0113 380 1381 for the listening service or 0113 380 1380 for the information service. The Instant Messaging service is available from 8pm-12am from the Nightline website: www.LeedsNightline.co.uk