Student-run listening service, Nightline, holds ‘mock shift’ for UEA staff

UEA library, which is situated next to the student support service. Photo: Denise Bradley

UEA library, which is situated next to the student support service. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant

Student mental health is a fast-growing concern for universities.

A UEA Nightline volunteer, with the listening service's teddy bear mascot. Photo: Norwich Nightline

A UEA Nightline volunteer, with the listening service's teddy bear mascot. Photo: Norwich Nightline - Credit: Archant

A 2015 survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that 78pc of respondents experienced a problem with their mental health in the past year.

And with growing concerns about the strain on their support services, one Norwich university has taken the unusual step of partnering with a student-run listening service, to gain a better understanding of this issue.

Norwich Nightline, a student-run support service based at the University of East Anglia (UEA), will welcome members of staff from the university's student support services (SSS) for a 'mock shift' on Friday, September 22.

Alyssa Girvan, external coordinator for Norwich Nightline said that service was offering six staff members from the students' union, university and SSS the chance to join the team for a shift.

UEA Nightline volunteers, who won a students' union award for best peer support group. Photo: Luke A

UEA Nightline volunteers, who won a students' union award for best peer support group. Photo: Luke Ashley Wendland Cass - Credit: Archant


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She said; 'They'll be doing a full night with us. Our committee will call in and mimic regular calls.

'Nightline has quite strict confidentiality policies. We have thought a lot about making the shift work and have a lot of measures in place to make sure no genuine calls get through.'

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Nightline volunteers are trained to deal with everything from basic calls from worried or homesick students, to those who may be experiencing serious mental health issues or suicidal thoughts.

Volunteers are also trained to cope with prank calls, or calls from people who are 'abusive or sexually obscene'.

Miss Girvan added that they hope to open the university's eyes to what Nightline deals with.

She said: 'The idea of experiencing a shift is to show them the reality that Nightline and students face.

'Nightline deals with calls from people who can't or are afraid to seek help from UEA or SSS.

'There's a culture of people being afraid to seek help - we help to bridge that gap. People don't seek help because they don't want to take up space on waiting lists.'

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Jon Sharp, director of student support services at UEA, spoke about the importance of supporting the service.

He said: '[We are] keen to support them in any way we can.

'The students we [SSS] see overlap with the students who call Nightline. It makes sense for the services to overlap.'

He added that UEA is 'absolutely committed to improving our understanding and support of mental health issues.'

What is Nightline?

Norwich Nightline, based at the University of East Anglia (UEA), is a student-run support service.

Nightline is a national association, operating a service at most universities in the UK.

It is staffed by student volunteers who, during term time, provide support to students from UEA and Norwich University of Arts, every single night.

Volunteers work from 8pm to 8am, and handle phone and Skype calls, emails, and instant messages.

The service deals with everything from home-sickness, loneliness, worries about health, relationships, or contraception, to serious mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts.

At many universities, including UEA, Nightline is the only place people can access support at night.

And rather than offering advice or solutions, Nightline volunteers simply provide students with a listening ear, as they have done every night, for the past 14 years.

Students' views

Waiting times for support at the University of East Anglia have often been criticised by students.

One literature, drama, and creative writing student said: 'I used the counselling service after Christmas in my second year.

'My only downside the wait times. [They] have always been an issue and are the biggest problem putting off students, including myself, from using the service.

'At one point in second year I was effectively told to come back in 12 weeks. That's an entire term.'

A UEA history graduate said: 'Having had an awful experience with SSS, I don't think this is their wisest or most useful tactic.

'To improve SSS they need more and better-trained staff.

'Something small like a Nightline collaboration won't go far.'

Jon Sharp, director of student services, said that waiting times were one of the first things he wanted to address, adding that: '12 week waiting times will absolutely be a thing of the past'.

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