‘A service like ours is more important than ever’: We spoke to an Edi Nightline volunteer
‘We exist to listen. You’re never being a burden’
The past year has arguably been the worst year for student mental health in recent history. With spiking loneliness, anxiety, and depression and limited university resources to counteract it, many students haven’t known where to turn.
Edinburgh Nightline is here to help. The service has been around since the 1970s, and put simply, it’s group of student volunteers who exist to listen to your problems. Things have changed since the start of the pandemic, but Nightline is still here, listening, every night of term.
The Tab spoke to Josh, a fourth year English literature student and one of Nightline’s publicity coordinators. Josh told us about Nightline’s principles of active listening, how the pandemic has affected the organisation, and the kinds of calls they receive. He wants students to know that no matter what they’ve been feeling recently or over the past year, Nightline is here to listen.
How does Nightline work?
Nightline is a listening and information service run by students, for students, running every night of term. Our current Covid hours are 8 pm to midnight. We’re a space where students across Edinburgh can discuss whatever’s on their minds. We provide a neutral and non-judgmental environment for people, whatever their state.
We use what’s called active listening, which means using empathy instead of sympathy. Sympathy is reflexive – it means that you try to help someone by saying whatever you think they want to hear. It’s actually less helpful than you think. Empathetic listening is much more constructive. It gives a person that space to put into words and have a clearer sense of whatever they’re feeling.
We operate on five core principles: confidentiality, anonymity, non-judgmentality, non-directivity, and non-advisory. Confidentiality and anonymity are mostly about establishing trust so callers can express themselves without hesitation. If you feel like you’re going to be judged, you’re going to open up less fully.
We also don’t give the caller any particular advice because we don’t know what they’re going through. An empathetic listener understands that no matter how well you know somebody, you’re never going to be able to completely understand their mental state or the nuance of their experience. If you offer advice, you’re assuming part of their experiences. Allowing someone the chance to articulate themselves is more constructive. But, we do offer information if a caller is looking for help beyond a student listener. We have an extensive database of other organisations to give to callers if they need help.
How has the pandemic affected Nightline?
We’re aware that the situation for students has been dire over the past year. It’s only natural that people should experience increased loneliness and anxiety, especially in the student population. The university experience is meant to be so formative and fun so it’s completely natural to feel sad about being denied this opportunity. Feelings of loneliness and anxiety are completely valid reactions. Given all that, we just want the student population to know that we’re here every night of term.
That being said, a big issue for Nightline has been publicity. There’s only so many people that you can reach with a social media post. Promotional materials on campus are the easiest for people to stumble across, and obviously, we can’t rely on that these days. The pandemic has been a particularly tough time for everyone. A service like ours is required more than ever. We want to make sure that people understand if they ever need an environment to talk about what they’re going through, that’s what Nightline is here to offer.
Who can use Nightline? Do you have to have a serious problem?
Anyone and everyone can use Nightline. A lot of people believe you should only call in if you have a particular problem. We offer this service for anyone to call in for whatever’s on their mind. It’s important that people feel listened to/can have a conversation, especially in this new reality where we’re socially starved. Students can come to us to discuss literally whatever is on their mind without fear of being judged.
You also shouldn’t feel like your issues aren’t “serious” enough. Nightline is a place for students to come to discuss anything. Talking about how you’re feeling to a non-judgmental party is essential. Also, different situations affect everyone in different ways. It’s hard to qualify what is “serious.” Something that may seem trivial to one person may be catastrophic to another.
We exist to listen. You don’t need to justify why you need to be listened to – it’s your right. You’re never being a burden. The best way to have a better idea of your own mental state is to project it out and put it into words.
Nightline is here. We’re open every night.
As a public face of the organisation, Josh no longer takes phone calls to protect the anonymity of volunteers.