Nightline provides a telephone service, as well as answering IMs and emailszigazou76


A problem shared is a problem halved

Confidential. Anonymous. Non-judgemental. Non-directive. These are the values of Cambridge Nightline. ‘What’s wrong with talking to friends or family?’, I hear you say. We are a trained listening service, and unlike most friends and family, we are contactable at 7pm-7am, every night during term time. For some issues it’s not always appropriate to approach family or friends: you remain anonymous with Nightline. Friends and family often give advice, but Nightline is broader. We can help you talk through your problems, we can chat about life, or we can just listen. What we have in common with good friends and family is a desire to care. Unlike the University, we are not bothered about academic achievement.

Being part of Nightline is a fulfilling experience. Meeting like-minded people who have unconditional concern for fellow students’ well-being is a constant reminder of the potential for kindness in our world. The shared acknowledgement of the social and mental health problems faced by human beings is reassuring. When British culture tends to perpetuate a stigma around sharing negative emotions, volunteering reminds me that I am not alone in feeling down sometimes.

One in four adults will experience a mental health problem in a given year. But a statistic less commonly quoted is that 100 per cent of us experience some degree of emotion, whether positive, negative, both or neither. While I acknowledge that there are many ways to deal with both everyday and extraordinary emotions, and that Nightline should not be the default source of help, it is nevertheless a fantastic resource. No problem is too minor to be shared with someone.

Being a listening service, Nightline does not advise. As difficult as it is to imagine a conversation in which no advice is given to a suffering student, it surprisingly works. Although we don’t solve problems for you, the process enables a caller to look at their life from an angle they might not have considered before. And, as the saying goes, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’.

We support the people who call; but we also support each other

Nightline is an amazing organisation. During my time volunteering with the service I have come to find a refuge from the Cambridge buzz and to feel part of a large family. Cycling in the dark to go on shift is a very special feeling, especially in a place where it is so easy to get caught up in the stresses of the never-ending daily work. Arriving to my shift always feels like a relief, a chance to hide away from this routine. I have been a volunteer for over a year, and one of the most rewarding parts of Nightline is the sense of home the organisation has managed to create. We support the people who call, message, or email us, but we also support each other.

“It somehow feels like belonging to a warm, large, loving family”

I wasn’t sure what this meant until the other evening when I arrived to my shift feeling overwhelmed. One of the volunteers, someone I had never met before, greeted me with a warm cup of tea, and helped me work through what was bringing me down so much. She listened, she was interested, she genuinely wanted to know more, she made me feel heard and understood, and somehow that process managed to ease some of the pressures I was putting on myself. Being a student at Cambridge doesn’t make it easy to take a step back and reflect, to switch off, and think. However, that evening, I felt like a user of Nightline, and I had a safe space to just offload.

I think this is what Nightline aims to create: I have seen Nightline grow as an organisation, and watched how carefully the loving committee and its volunteers look after every small detail to make sure it can best support its users and everyone involved. It somehow feels like belonging to a warm, large, loving family, and I hope this resembles the experience of its users.

I always am super fulfilled after a Nightline shift

What’s being on shift like? Once you’ve met the other person you’re volunteering with, eating commences (invariably chocolate), chit-chat and occasionally a bit of essay-writing gets done. Then the phone rings, or IM pings up, or both at once, and you’re away and in the active listening zone. Because of the non-directive policy you tend to end up making lots of empathetic sounds and generally repeating people’s thoughts back to them. I find it’s quite therapeutic, and there is something weirdly disconnecting about the process. You know that you doing something for someone in need, and you are really engaged with them, but at the same time the anonymity and mode of listening makes it less emotionally hard-hitting than you might think.

We get all manner of calls at night-line: someone telling you about their day, to someone who is silent on the other end or someone in a more extreme situation. Instant messaging feels remarkably different from the calls. Because of the medium, people tend to say more and leave less space for you to respond, also the conversations tend last a lot longer and can often start really late at night. In a way, they are easier for us as volunteers because we have more time to respond, but equally I find them a lot more draining purely because more information tends to be conveyed.

Some shifts can be busier than others, and yes, at times you don’t get much sleep. But if no one is calling or messaging, you’re snuggled up in the volunteer beds in the office. In the morning you get up at 7am to disconnect the lines, and might either cycle home to shower and go to lectures or have a lie-in at the office and then shower there. And then, before you leave, a compulsory polaroid with your co-volunteer is taken, to add to the collection on the walls.

Leaving the office into the bustling Cambridge streets is a bit surreal, but I always am super fulfilled after a Nightline shift. It takes a little while to snap out of the active-listening mode of talking to people, and sometimes you’re tired, but it has no impact on my Cambridge life that isn’t positive, even the sneakiness hiding it from friends is exciting (in a really mundane way of course). I love it.