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A history of Nightline’s campus-based service

Finding yourself in distress with no one to turn to while at university can be one of the most daunting experiences you can ever have. However, here at Warwick, students are lucky to have a group of dedicated volunteers to turn to in a time of need. Nightline has been operating for almost 50 years with more than 2000 specially trained student volunteers nationwide. There are currently 42 Nightlines covering 113 institutions that reach 1.8 million students. The University of Warwick’s Nightline was even awarded ‘Nightline of the Year’ in 2014 by the Nightline Association.

Nightline is a service which offers confidential and non-judgemental peer-to-peer support, entirely run by volunteer students. Open from 9pm to 9am every night of term, the trained volunteers lend a listening ear to any student that is in need of it. In an anonymous interview, a Nightline volunteer described the workings of the service: “We don’t really give advice or make a judgement and it’s very much more about listening to people’s stories and hearing what they have to say.”

Many of us often take for granted our friends, flatmates, and family – we turn to them when we’re upset or need a chat without a second thought. However, for some people, being at university can be extremely lonely and difficult. You can find yourself surrounded by people you don’t know very well at all and wouldn’t be comfortable talking to about private issues. This is where Nightline comes in. With complete anonymity and free from judgement, you can vent to a trained person who’s of a similar age to you, rather than an older counsellor who may struggle to see the situation from your perspective.

The service was founded on the notion that some students may not be comfortable approaching outsiders for help, and that seeking advice from another student would be much easier

The first Nightline was established at the University of Essex in 1970 by former director of the local branch of Samaritans, Professor Geoffrey Hosking, and the university’s chaplain, Malcolm France, as part of an effort to reduce student suicide rates. Initially, the service was founded on the notion that some students may not be comfortable approaching outsiders for help, and that seeking advice from another student would be much easier. The idea of a Nightline became a popular one, and began spreading across other universities across the UK, starting with Imperial College in 1971.

As more and more Nightline services were established across the country, individual teams started to work together to share ideas and skills. Around the 1980s, annual national Nightline conferences were held at a range of higher education institutes, leading to the founding of the umbrella organisation National Nightline. This became a registered charity in 2006 and subsequently adopted the operating name of Nightline Association. The Nightline Association continues to host its annual conference of member Nightlines every year, which forms a primary method of communication within the association. Due to its success in the UK, the Nightline model has also been adopted by a number of universities in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the USA.

While the Nightline Association represents all affiliated organisations, it has no authority over them. However, all Nightlines adhere to a set of core principles. Many of the organisations have what they refer to as the ‘Five Principles’ of the service which are: confidentiality, anonymity, non-judgemental, non-directive, non-advisory. The Nightline Association also state that their vision is to ensure that every student in higher education has access to support offered by Nightline services so that: “Every student is able to talk about their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Fewer students have their education compromised by emotional difficulties. Fewer students die by suicide.”

Research has found that 87% of students who contacted Nightline felt their mental well-being had improved as a result

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed 95 recorded university student suicides for the 12 months leading up to July 2017 in England and Wales. With more than 2 million students at university in England and Wales during that time period, the suicide rate is an estimated 4.7% deaths per 100,000 students. Many students may not know how to seek the support and help they may need in regards to mental health, and Nightline exists to provide all the information and guidance in these situations. Victoria Sinclair, Charity Manager at Nightline Association said that: “volunteers took over 36,000 calls from students in 2017, and the main topic they wanted to discuss was issues with their mental health.” It has been estimated that 75% of students experience some degree of psychological distress while at university, with one in 12 having experienced suicidal thoughts. Young people aged 16 to 24 are more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide than those in any other age group.

However, it’s not just mental health that Nightline can offer help with. On their website, Nightline say that: “You don’t have to have a problem to speak to us. We do our best to be approachable and we would never think less of someone because they wanted to talk.” Whether you want to talk about rising fees, academic pressure, concerns about employability or simply vent about your flatmates, Nightline is there to listen. Many students have submitted testimonials on the website, saying that “having to explain my problem forced me to think it through completely for the first time. Having somebody to talk to made me calmer and more able to deal with problems”.

For students with mental health issues, the waiting lists for university wellbeing services can often put them off from seeking the help they need. Nightline provides anonymous help and support in the interim to professional help. Of the students who have experienced psychological distress, one in three says it was at night. Night time can be a particularly vulnerable time for students; if you feel unsafe going home or want to talk to someone about anything that may have happened, you won’t have to wait until the morning to do so. Research has found that 87% of students who contacted Nightline felt their mental well-being had improved as a result. Three in every four student callers felt calmer, less agitated or anxious and better able to deal with their problem. The volunteers will not push you to tell them anything you don’t want to discuss, and you decide which direction the conversation takes – no problem is too difficult or too trivial.

Even if you just feel lonely, you can visit Nightline between 9pm and 9am and have a cup of tea and biscuits and chat to one of the volunteers

Warwick’s Nightline also offers free condoms, pregnancy tests, lube, sanitary towels, tampons, ear plugs and attack alarms, as well as bus timetables and other information leaflets should you want them. Located between the Old and New Rootes accommodation blocks, just 30 seconds away from the Students’ Union, Nightline is very accessible and open to every student. Even if you just feel lonely, you can visit Nightline between 9pm and 9am and have a cup of tea and biscuits and chat to one of the volunteers.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Nightline, you can sign up on their website and receive more information on getting involved by email. Although resisting the urge to give advice or relate to other people’s problems can be difficult, the Nightline code and training can improve your listening skills and teach the importance of letting people talk. A previous volunteer for the service said: “Volunteering for any charity is worthwhile, but few offer the opportunity to make a direct impact on someone’s life the way Nightline does.”

Aside from visiting Nightline on campus, you can also get in touch via their website, telephone, instant messenger or email, which is always open, even during the holidays. If you require any support from the university’s mental health services you can seek help from the Wellbeing Advisors or contact the Counselling Service and Mental Health Team, which provides a wide range of services including face-to-face counselling, email counselling and workshops.


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