“We won’t tell your DoS, we don’t know your friends, we won’t judge”
We’ve seen the stickers in the bathroom walls, but what does LINKLINE do? In this Mental Health Awareness week, we sat down with Michael Zervos to found out.
Everyone deals with the stress of exam term differently, but there are many welfare services available. Michael is this year’s Public Face for Linkline in Cambridge, which means he can break anonymity and actually disclose that he’s a volunteer.
Linkline abides by 4 main principles: non-judgmentality, non-directivity, anonymity and arguably most importantly, confidentiality. “All four are central to any active listening service, and we add a fifth – we’re independent of both ARU and UoC, enabling us to tailor the service to what we, as a society of students, view as important. We won’t tell your DoS, we don’t know your friends and we aren’t here to judge. “
Welfare is universally known to be important in Cambridge. It is a high pressure and intense environment. The effects of this often go unseen – mental health is a largely silent and under appreciated issue, and yet people can find the transition to university very distressing: “On average, 1 in 4 people will suffer from mental health issues in their lifetime.
“I’d like you to compare this to the 1 in 3 that will develop cancer. That is not a big difference. Both can have immense impact on you or a loved one’s life, and yet they evoke drastically different societal and personal reactions.”
The existence of Mental Health Awareness Week shows what a controversial and stigmatised topic mental health remains. It is hard to resolve, but Michael explained that the service they provide isn’t actually counselling, it’s listening and support.
“People often find it helpful to talk through their issues, and we provide a safe space in which they can do that. No one should feel that their emotions are invalid; everything we experience is relative and unique. As such we treat any issue as equally important – everyone struggles, everyone needs help. We deal with range of issues, rather than just crises.”
Speaking about the unique dynamic created by Linkline using student volunteers exclusively, Michael talked about the importance of peer support work on the basis that all students have shared experience of life in Cambridge.
It is obviously an intense job. For confidentiality reasons we couldn’t talk about examples of calls, but knowing how shitty stuff can get, I could imagine the gravity of some issues volunteers deal with.
Michael explained that the non-directivity is actually a really good way of dealing with this – the volunteers don’t take on responsibility or ownership of the callers problems. They listen, reflect and focus on what the caller is saying, rather than their own personal agendas. The volunteers actually get huge fulfilment from their role: “there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing someone talk themselves through their problems and come out the other side with the knowledge and pride they did the hard work.”
“We’re special in providing a service where both the caller and the volunteer are totally anonymous. this provides a level of consistency in the service we can provide, ensuring that all calls are met with the same empathic attitude.”
Linkline is open 7pm – 7am every night, every term. You can email or ring them on 01223 744 444.