The Kindness of Strangers

As the latest statistics reveal university students are suffering increased levels of anxiety, Nouse talks to the voices listening to the loneliness, isolation and doubts of the 21st Century student



A recent study revealed that 35,000 students in England each year fail to complete their degree course, throwing the stresses and strains of university life into the national media spotlight.

Nightline is a student-run, confidential listening, information and sexual health supplies service, aspiring to reach out to students suffering in isolation. York’s Nightline is an internal affiliate of the Students’ Union, funded by YUSU but run internally by volunteers. Andy Pickard, a Nightline volunteer and the public face of the project, revealed that whilst volunteers, “can’t offer anything in the way of advice, the main aim is to help people consider their problems first and then their solutions.” He went on to stress, “that it’s a very friendly service, with an unlimited supply of tea and biscuits, [and] we’re also open to people just coming in for chats about anything, not just their problems. A variety of information, from takeaway numbers, helplines, leaflets about mental health issues, sexual health, drugs, housing, pregnancy, money issues and many more topics are available.”

Pickard emphasised that the most important aspect of Nightline is its availability and accessibility to absolutely any student. All Nightline volunteers leave their personal opinions and problems at home when they volunteer for a night. Subsequently students can approach them about anything without judgement or instruction. Andy stressed Nightline’s volunteers are one hundred percent confidential, never divulging any secrets of any kind about the volunteering that they do. Students have to trust the service if they’re going to use it, information is never disclosed and no records of details discussed are recorded.

For Andy, Nightline is an opportunity to give something back to the University. “So much is on offer here, and it’s a shame if people miss out because their minds are on other things and don’t have anyone to talk to. Someone there to purely listen goes a long way to making someone feel better.”

For one of York’s volunteers: “More than anything, volunteering with Nightline gave me a massive boost to my confidence and shaped my personality. Before joining Nightline I was very shy and quiet, whereas after Nightline I was able to chair meetings, give input into discussions, and talk to anyone. In a way, Nightline gave me courage, and confidence to know that I can handle more than I ever thought I could.”

Last year, York’s Nightline unleashed their mascot, ‘main man’ and promotional cow, “Kevin”, who can be added on Facebook and found performing his famous Dubstep video on Youtube aptly named: “We need to talk about Kevin.” The new initiative is a means of providing Nightline with a public and recognisable face within the York community. Spreading the service across campus, Nightline confirmed, “he will only get busier as the year goes on.”

Results from a three-year study being carried out at Leicester University which recently appeared in the Guardian, revealed many students were suffering from post-Christmas blues after falling back into their second term of University. The team’s leader revealed in the article that: “One student talked about leaving her boyfriend at home, and when it got to Christmas she was nervous because of going back to a life she’d moved on from. Once home, it was hard getting back into the relationship with her boyfriend. When she arrived back at university, it was difficult to get back into friendships there because they hadn’t been made for very long.”
Nightline are confident that their volunteers are prepared for absolutely any problem, regardless of whether it’s Christmas, Easter or the middle of Summer.

For Bob Hughes, YUSU Welfare Officer; “Student life is often quite different to, and sometimes a lot harder than, the ‘best three years of your life’ that we are told to expect upon coming to university. People don’t necessarily mention that there are a lot of highs and lows at university and that the transition can be difficult. Fortunately, there are people there to help and fantastic services like Nightline, who you can talk to about your fears, worries and stresses so that you don’t have to suffer in silence.”
Students contact Nightline with varying degrees of concern, discussing a vast range of topics including academic stress, depression, loneliness, eating disorders, self harm and debt.

Pickard explained the great expanse of problems that people come to Nightline with: “Every person that comes to us is different, therefore we cater for almost any conceivable problem; all the standard sexual health supplies, condoms, lubricants, dental dams, chlamydia and pregnancy tests.”

The University experience is unique, students are thrown into a half-way house between adolescence and adulthood. For many it’s not ‘the time of their life’, and for those times students need a source such as Nightline for empathy and refuge.

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