The first rule of Nightline is: you do not talk about Nightline. The organisation, above everything, values anonymity. This allows them to protect their callers and volunteers alike. They won’t tell you to get therapy, they won’t offer you advice, so what do they do? I spent a night with Nightline to find out.
I walked into the Nightline mock shift blissfully unaware. I knew I was there to learn, but thought I’d be taught in a removed PowerPoint presentation sort of way. From the moment External and Internal Co-ordinators Dave and Alyssa began, it became clear that we’d act like real volunteers on a real shift; we would answer the phones.
They made the mock shift as authentic as possible with calls re-enacted by committee members. Alyssa said that they could “never truly replicate what a real Nightline shift is like” as their volunteers “go through much more training and logistics before they even think about picking up the phone.” We were underqualified and I’m glad she said so. I certainly felt it. Picking up the phone seems simple.
I answer calls every day and get it right 9 times out of 10. The only difference was I had to start with “Hello, Nightline.” But that wasn’t strictly true. Answering the phone calls, fake as they may have been, was much harder than hello.
We had callers at all times of the night with all kinds of problems, from bereavement to university struggles; we had to follow Nightline’s rules with everyone. As a volunteer, you can’t give advice and Alyssa noticed my confusion. She said, “those involved in the shift were genuinely surprised at their lack of understanding of what Nightline did every night.”
It was hard to listen to a caller feeling overwhelmed with their studies in silence. I couldn’t suggest a diary, colour coded notes, and folders for each of their modules. That’s not what Nightline do.
Dave said that often callers have all that advice, what they need is someone to talk to. They need someone to listen, judgement free. The service offers calls via phone, IM, text, Skype, drop in and email. Though as phone and IM are their most popular methods, thatís what we used.
Director of Student Services Jon Sharp found the shift harder than expected. He had imagined “calls of 20 minutes or so and it turns out that some contacts can last for hours, especially the text chats.”
He was surprised to learn about the way some people abuse the service. Alyssa’s first three calls were obscene. That doesn’t mean shouting. It doesn’t mean upsetting. It means callers using Nightline as sex line. She said with a smile that she can catch them pretty quickly and her experience has helped.
But hers is an optimistic view that I struggled to share. I couldn’t believe that volunteers are regularly treated that way. Luckily the Nightline team is like a family and they “all work together to support each other through the contacts.” This means that they “are never really taking them alone, from collaborating on an IM to just having everyone on shift wake up with you at 3am when a call comes in.”
My night with Nightline was enlightening. Jon Sharpe suggested that night be repeated annually and it was an opinion we all shared. So I was surprised to learn that, despite being involved in health and social care, some university departments turned down the opportunity to learn more about Nightline.
If you are thinking about joining: do. It’s hard but important and the Nightline family seems like a good one to be part of. But whatever you do, remember the first rule. It’s to protect everyone.