Nightline interview: why we should talk more about mental health

UEA’s student run support service, Nightline, is a way in which students can anonymously talk about anything. Open between 8pm and 8am seven days a week during term time, Nightline volunteers are trained to listen to whatever people feel they need to say. Nightline offers a wide variety of ways to get in touch including over the telephone, through text or email, via Skype and instant messaging through their website.

Concrete spoke to two Nightline representatives, External Coordinator Joanne Bridgland and one of their Publicity and Fundraising Officers, Ruby Boorer. All Nightline volunteers remain anonymous, the only exceptions being committee members. Ruby explained: “it’s not something you’re doing to show off how much you’re helping other people, it’s something you’re doing because you genuinely want to help and you don’t need other people to know that you’re doing it.”

And it is volunteers who are the lifeblood of Nightline. Joanne said that they are “a student run service, for students.” Nightline’s niche is the fact they are staffed by students and open during unsociable hours. Joanne continued: “we are one of the only support systems on campus that is available during the night and I personally find that sometimes when you’re feeling maybe a little bit lonely and it’s really early in the morning, and you don’t want to wake anyone up to tell them that you’re not feeling great, being able to ring someone who you know will be awake and who is there just to listen to you… appeals to a lot of people.”

Joanne said her time volunteering with Nightline “the most rewarding thing I’ve done at university without question.

“Sometimes you’ll have really long shifts that are hard but sometimes you’ll just have one contact that you know that you’ve helped and it’s an amazing feeling that someone rings you and they might be crying and they can’t speak through the tears and then at the end of the call, they’re calm and just like ‘thank you’. And that is amazing that you know that you’ve been able to help someone through a really tough time. It makes it worth all the work we put in.”

Nightline is more than just a last resort. It also acts as an information service where volunteers can use their experience and resources to direct students. As Ruby explained, “alongside listening, if someone phones up and they want to know when the next bus is coming or the number for a pizza delivery service we can provide them with that as well.”

Last year, Nightline was relocated from Suffolk Terrace to a room in the Library. This has presented a number of challenges, most prominently the service’s inability to accept visits in person.

Joanne explained, “We have seen a drop in the number of contacts we are able to take because we can’t take drop-ins in the situation that we’re in. And it has been affecting our volunteers a little bit just because shifts are not as comfortable as they used to be. We do ask a lot with a 12 hour shift so we try to make them as comfortable as possible and that’s not always the case in the library.”

However, both Nightline representatives agreed that it was thanks to the resilience and versatility of their volunteers that the aspects of their service aside from drop ins had carried on largely as normal.

Joanne praised the “amazing” students and explained: “every single one of our volunteers, they’re incredible people who are selfless and doing this because they want to help and for no other reason than that.And so even though it’s a bit of a difficult situation, they are amazing and they just pull through, they always do.”

Ruby added: “It’s actually been quite positive to see how flexible we are as a service that we’ve managed to adapt so quickly to a completely different space and that we’re still running our service to the standard that we were beforehand… that’s been quite reassuring.”

In November, Concrete reported on a union council resolution and subsequent university promise to ensure Nightline’s relocation to a more suitable space. Joanne said: “we are making tracks always to move out of [the Library]. I have fortnightly meetings with Jon Sharp [UEA’s Director of Student Services] who’s helping us out.”

At this Thursday’s union council meeting, however, a motion will be tabled looking to block a potential Nightline move into rooms currently being used as music rehearsal spaces, raising more questions over the service’s future.

Occasionally some of the calls Nightline receive are particularly harrowing. Their website outlines their policy when it comes to suicidal callers, which involves discretion on behalf of the call handler and freedom to respect the caller’s wishes totally.

Loneliness is a real modern-day scourge, evidenced by organisations like the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), which encourages men to speak to someone about their mental health. This is especially the case for students living away from home for the first time.

Staying true to their motto “we’ll listen, not lecture”, Nightline is there for everyone. Joanne commented: “I find that being able to talk to someone and just knowing that someone is there and that I’m not on my own is an enormous relief. I think that if more people knew about the fact that they can call us about absolutely anything and that we will literally just listen and focus on just them, it might help some people I know a lot of people who benefit from knowing that they can ring someone up and have a chat even if it’s just a really small thing that’s on their mind.”

Nightline volunteers, said Ruby, are “trained to deal with anything” before they begin answering calls or responding to messages. There is a training weekend featuring lots of role play activities, and new Nightliners then have several shifts alongside a more experienced volunteer.

Nightline ensures that their volunteers are well looked after once their training is complete too. Ruby said: “we have quite an established support system so there’s always someone that you can talk to.” Joanne agreed: “if we are worried about [a volunteer] then the support structure will kick into place and we’ll have meetings with them [to] make sure they’ll be alright.”

Norwich Nightline is an affiliated branch of the Nightline Association, who coordinate training. Joanne said that “although we are mostly independent… they help us out when we need it.”

If you are interested in getting involved with Nightline, either to take calls and reply to messages or help out with the fundraising and publicity side of the operation, they are currently recruiting a new wave of volunteers. To find out more information, visit their website norwich.nightline.ac.uk.


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Tony Allen

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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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