As a Niteline Volunteer I can’t express enough how proud I am of what we do. I live and breathe for the ethos of our organisation. In a collegiate community where thousands of students mill through an education system that promises them as first years a thrilling adventure, it doesn’t always feel like a fairytale. In a moment it can all get too much. The constant demands of assignments, deadlines, parties you can’t afford to go to or miss.. Well we think we’ll get through it if we just bury our heads in our work and let it be. But sometimes it is nice to realise that throughout this race to the finish line, we can slide into our bedrooms at night, open a tab and start a conversation. It starts with a word. Niteline.
I joined Niteline in September 2013. I saw an email that was circulated by my tutor and I impulsively thought it sounded right up my leftie liberal street. It was a word I’d seen etched on bathroom door stickers but wasn’t familiar with. Pounding up and down the stairs to lectures and tutorials I’d absorbed the weight of what they did by posters staring back at me. Volunteering on a student helpline is an amazing experience. If I hadn’t clicked on that email I would be a different person.
It feels strange trying to articulate how good it feels to listen to someone and gently guide that caller to a better end. It is hard to describe how fascinating it is to volunteer with different students twice a month with everyone bonding into the wee hours and supporting not only callers but each other. It feels empowering to now be one half of a team coordinating our organisation.
Niteline was born out of an idea to prevent student suicide in 1970 by Professor Geoffrey Hosking in Essex University. As a trained Samaritan volunteer, he heard of a disabled student who was bed bound and had a steady stream of visitors to her room nightly in order to chat about their problems with a kind ear. Their idea was simply revolutionary and one that was reactionary in the wider Essex University community. Staff were appalled at the idea of students who may have been suicidal or unable to cope. Geoffrey told a recent Nightline Association gathering that one staff member told him nothing would be gained by students listening to trained peers, they were ‘bumbling idiots’ and should not attend University! Well this story is an endearing reminder of how progressive University systems have become in monitoring and mentoring systems like Niteline Dublin.
Their idea is responsible for the now 40 plus Nightlines in the UK and ultimately inspired the founding of Dublin Niteline in 1994. Dublin students in NCAD, TCD, DCU, RCSI and even MU in the far flung county of Kildare can speak to a trained student peer seven nights a week from 9pm until 2:30 am. Fast forward to 2015 and Queens University Belfast and Limerick are beginning their own Niteline journey which will hopefully start a new conversation in these cities. I am super proud of Dublin Niteline as we just won ‘Best Nightline of 2015’ at our Spring Nightline Conference in Durham University. But how does this organisation relate to the average student? Why would the average student call a listening service?
Where do students go after hours to seek help? You might think it is easy to pick up your phone and text a friend but what if you can’t do it? You need to talk to someone about something heavier than what your biology lab partner is used to. You might want to be comforted by someone who won’t judge you for being you. You might feel like no one will understand or care to LISTEN. So here is where I implore you to talk it out with our Niteline family of volunteers.
We are just like you, students who happen to all like staying up late 7 nights a week and love the thrill of the telephone. Each volunteer is different, yet still a student just like you. If I keep a problem bundled up I simply implode. I think talking combats a lot of problems and especially salves your fears when you know you can talk in complete trust. We respect our callers so much we remain completely anonymous volunteers throughout our time in Niteline. We lie to friends and loved ones and it is all for you, the potential callers to inch one bit closer to talking to us, either by phone or online.
Your mind might wander to that poster you saw with some friends and think we sound like a horrendous last resort thing. Not really. We have lots of nights where people call us for the chats. It is so important to talk and talk and talk it out of your mind and body. It is incredibly liberating knowing a student run organisation is so adept at helping our fellow peers be heard. We aren’t a last resort of sorts. Nah. We just want to listen.