Nightline has been providing phone-in services for 45 yearsIllustration by Chloe Marschner for Varsity

This week, the Switchboard podcast spoke to Lauren Howarth, one of the ‘public faces’ and publicity officer for the Cambridge branch of Nightline, the phone-in mental health service.

First volunteering as a fresher, Lauren emphasised the importance of the service in providing someone to talk at a time of night where people may be feeling the most distressed but may also be at their most isolated.

The issue of mental health is one which affects all students in different ways to different extents, and for many, support can be difficult to find. For the last 40 years, the national organisation Nightline has been providing phone, and more recently text and online, services to students in universities across the country to provide support from 7pm to 7am every night.

Lauren told Switchboard about the importance of ‘active listening’ when talking with friends about mental health-related issues – an approach which Nightline uses when talking to people, often about heavy topics, over the phone.

As a ‘non-directional and non-judgemental’ service, Nightline aims first and foremost to provide a space where people can be listened to no matter what they wish to talk about or what time at night they call. Mentioning how some people “don’t think but rather wait for their turn to speak”, Lauren comments on how by just listening to people open up about their personal difficulties, it can help people come to realisations themselves.

Indeed, Lauren also reflected on how as a phone-in anonymous service, Nightline acts as a perfect stranger in that people may not feel the same reticence in discussing personal aspects of their lives as they may if talking to someone face-to-face.

Having to discuss distressing topics on the phone can be a difficult task for Nightline’s student volunteers. To help with this, Lauren prefers to focus on the idea that she, and Nightline’s wide range of volunteers from Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin, are making a positive impact.


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Lauren encouraged all students to make use of Nightline, noting that for many the feeling that their issues are not ‘severe’ enough to warrant seeking support is an attitude which can worsen mental health across the University. She emphasised how students can contact the service to talk about “anything you want.”

To listen to this episode in full, Calling In can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and all other major podcast platforms where all our episodes are available to download.

Each week Switchboard seeks to connect listeners with people in Cambridge with interesting stories to tell. If you have heard any unusual stories from around Cambridge this week, please don’t hesitate to contact us at switchboard@varsity.co.uk.

Nightline can be contacted every night during full term from 7pm to 7am on 01223 744444 or at cambridge.nightline.ac.uk. The University Counselling Service can be reached at 01223 332865 and more information found at www.counselling.cam.ac.uk

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