‘Finding a solution for a caller feels great. But it’s not always possible’

Niteline is a free, confidential out-of-hours helpline where volunteers offer their time to listen and advise fellow students about issues too personal to share with friends and family. Here we speak to a Niteline volunteer, whose name is withheld to uphold the integrity of her role

Niteline is a confidential helpline for for third-level students, run by students from Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Fergal Phillips

Niteline is a confidential helpline for for third-level students, run by students from Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Fergal Phillips

 

I am a full-time student and also volunteer with Niteline Dublin. I work on the phones and online listening service and am a member of the executive committee. I’ve been volunteering for Niteline since my first year in college because as soon as I heard about it I knew it was something I would really enjoy.

My job entails taking shifts on phones or online from 9pm to 2.30am and offering anonymous and non-judgmental support. I speak to people from Trinity, Maynooth, NCAD and RCSI on phones and online, and also attend group support and retraining; as a committee member, I assist with organising Niteline’s publicity and go to meetings.

The amount of calls or length of each call varies and can be very unpredictable. We have very busy and very quiet nights; however, because exam seasons are usually quite stressful for students, this seems to be when call frequency is the highest.

Volunteers have about two shifts a month but we must also attend a fortnightly support group.

As I am a member of the executive committee, I have additional meetings at least once a week as well as events and meetings with representatives of our affiliated colleges.

Strong presence

My week usually starts with a typical morning for any college student. I wake up early and try my best to make it into my lectures on time.

In the evenings I attend committee meetings or meet other volunteers. Some days I have to take care of publicity business such as handling merchandise or discussing plans with student union officers as I organise events for Niteline such as gigs, stands at freshers’ weeks and study runs.

We also try to have a strong presence at all our affiliated colleges by visiting them regularly, and hanging posters. As a volunteer we must keep our identities unknown so there are often times when I have to give odd excuses for where I’m going or where I’ve been. It’s something we all manage, though, and the role itself is definitely worth the sneaking around.

When I’m working I go to an undisclosed location where we turn phones on and get ready to take our calls. These can be very light or serious and can range in length from a few seconds to up to two hours. Although there are issues that come up more than others, we get calls about literally everything and anything, and that’s what I really love about being a Niteline volunteer. Sometimes a night on call can consist of general chats about everyday things, but other nights it can involve supporting someone through a difficult time.

After a night on the phones, I don’t usually get home until after 3am, and while I try to get some sleep it’s also important for me to relax and maybe have a light chat with someone else who was on call.

Finding a solution for someone is always a great feeling.

However, sometimes it’s not possible, or it’s not what the caller is looking for. We practise nondirective support, so giving advice or trying to give an end solution isn’t what we do.

The calls can be conversations where the caller is given a space to explore their thoughts with someone else, and if that leads to a solution it always makes ending the phone call uplifting.

If the caller doesn’t want to go somewhere with an issue, that’s perfectly fine, too. I just really enjoy offering a safe space to someone where they can let any type of conversation go the way they want.

As we are an anonymous service, we can’t refer anyone on because there are never any personal details shared between caller and volunteer. However, if someone were to call and ask how they’d go about contacting somewhere else, we are always happy to provide them with the information they need.

The best thing about Niteline for me is being on a shift. Just like our callers, we’re all students, so it means a lot to be able to support a peer through anything they might have going on.

And although all phone calls are anonymous, you can usually build a strong connection with the caller. Also, I find volunteering with others in the room to be a bonding experience, which makes us enjoy what we do even more.

Challenging calls

Sometimes a call can be challenging and there have been times when my skills as a volunteer are really tapped into. Having to end a call because there is a two-hour limit (to protect volunteers and make sure callers get the highest quality of listening service) is very difficult.

Also, the anonymous nature of the call can sometimes be difficult as you never know how the person is the next day. As our calls vary so much the nights are completely unpredictable, and that can be daunting, but I’m constantly supported by the others on shift with me and I have access to college counsellors if I need extra support. Ultimately, we try to do our best no matter what the issue.

It really is a great service and I would suggest to students without Niteline to explore whatever support services their college offers, whether that’s their welfare officer, counsellor, peer support, chaplaincy, tutor, or whatever.

There are other phone-listening services available to the public. Just talking to anyone you trust is so important. I know how tough being a student can be, and support for the big and small issues goes a long way.

There is always somewhere out there ready to listen. Niteline Dublin was awarded Niteline Association’s Best Niteline at the spring regional conference at Durham University this year. For more information see niteline.ie or call 1800 793 793

Out of hours

It can be very difficult and all of us in Niteline really find it important to unwind. Directly after a shift I know some stay up and relax but I prefer to goto bed. I like going for a walk the next day or meeting my friends or boyfriend.I love watching films as a way to take my mind off a difficult night. It’s really important for us all to socialise with each other, and with the friends we have outside Niteline. When a night is hard going on me, I need to be busy the next day. At weekends, I usually hang out with my friends, go for walks or go home to visit my family. Mindfulness is crucial for all volunteers and we often like to meet up casually with each other or make sure to take our minds off college life with our friends.

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