Who you gonna call?

Operating as a comforting presence in the dark, who are the volunteers manning the phones of NiteLine?

You’ve seen their advertisements all over College: posters in bathroom stalls, pamphlets around the Arts Block, flyers in the corridors. As students in Trinity, most of us are vaguely familiar with the existence of a service called NiteLine. But what exactly is it? For those uninitiated, NiteLine is a helpline and listening service, run by students for students. NiteLine has been providing confidential, non-judgmental help for students since its foundation 25 years ago. Lines are open from 9pm until 2:30am, every night of term.

Mental health is a difficult and personal topic to talk about. Despite being so widespread, mental health problems are still highly stigmatised. Many people feel ashamed or embarrassed about the issues they may be dealing with. Telling someone who is struggling with depression to “just be happy” or telling someone who suffers from anxiety to “just stop being nervous” is wholly ineffective. People who are struggling need to be heard by having their problems acknowledged and carefully listened to, rather than merely being dismissed or offerred free advice. NiteLine exists for this reason.

According to the Niteline policy, “volunteers are required to be discreet about their involvement in Niteline”. However, NiteLine does have some public faces. Czara Casey is NiteLine’s current Head of Publicity. Her role is to promote the service and make sure as many students as possible know about it. “I coordinate the public faces – publicity officers, our merchandise officer, and publicity volunteers from each of our affiliated colleges. It’s my job to make sure word about our service reaches as many students as possible. The role involves creativity, which I love, and I have so much scope to work on different projects,” Casey told Trinity News. She was inspired to join the NiteLine team after having used the service herself. “I had actually rang up myself one stressful night and I remember leaving the call thinking, ‘I want to do that for someone else’.”

“Whether you want to talk about the latest episode you binged on Netflix or a serious mental health issue, we are here to listen.”

After initially missing the application deadline halfway through second year, Casey was able to join NiteLine at the start of her third year. She described the training process as “extensive, intense, and rewarding”. When asked if she has ever had to deal with a particularly difficult call, Casey said: “Each call brings its own unique challenges and rewards. You never know what to expect as our calls can be about any subject under the moon. Whether you want to talk about the latest episode you binged on Netflix or a serious mental health issue, we are here to listen. Thankfully, we have a great volunteer welfare system in place. Fellow volunteers always check in and make sure you’re doing okay after a call. Counselling sessions and extra support can also always be arranged if the volunteer has experienced distress.”

A second volunteer who shared her experiences working for the service is Hannah Collier, another member of the NiteLine Publicity Team. “My role is to run and help at promotional stands we have on campus, periodically throughout the year as well as at Freshers’ Week, postgrad fairs, and Halls fairs. The main aim is to make sure that every student knows about the service that is available and how they can access it…I make sure that all the posters around campus are fresh and up-to-date,” Collier told Trinity News. She first got involved with NiteLine at the start of her second year, and has been involved for the past year now. “I wanted to join because during my time in secondary school I personally had quite a tough experience with my own mental health,” she said. “During that time, I found that the services available to me as a secondary school student were limited and relatively ineffective. So when I became aware of what was offered to university students, such as the Student Counselling Service and NiteLine, I very much wanted to share those resources with as many students as possible. I wanted to help students to get the help that I got.”

“It’s always good to be reassured that the work you’re doing is helping your fellow student.”

Speaking of the training NiteLine provide, Collier said that the training the publicity team receives is more informal than that of the phone volunteers. “Since I am acting as chair of the publicity team in Trinity this year, I ran a training session this term as well…The training is quite interactive. We make sure to discuss the values and pillars on which NiteLine stands: it being a confidential, non-directive, non-judgmental, and anonymous service.” She could not give comment on the experience of being a phone volunteer, as that is not her role within NiteLine, but finds being part of the publicity team to be fulfilling in its own way. When asked about any particular rewarding experiences, Collier said: “Not one singular rewarding experience comes to mind for me. I often find reward in the conversations with people where they are telling how important they believe the service to be and how it may have affected them or people they know so positively. It’s always good to be reassured that the work you’re doing is helping your fellow student.”

Something not immediately evident with NiteLine is the fact that volunteers experience huge variety in both callers and content. Not limited to those in distress, the service also receives those just looking for a chat. During conversations with Casey and Collier, it was clear that the people involved in the service are passionate about what they do and genuinely care about helping others. Sometimes a patient, listening ear can make all the difference to someone who is struggling.