Nightline: Students Supporting Students


Do you have a Nightline service on your campus? Are you a student who wants the support of people who understand what you are going through, or perhaps want to get involved and support your peer through their difficulties. No one should be ashamed of struggling and there are plenty of organisations that are there to offer support, such as the Samaritans, Studentminds, CALM and the student run association, Nightline.  In this blog Sarah Rodway-Swanson talks about Nightline, the service they provide and explains how you can get involved. We all have mental health, it is important that we look after it just as much as we care of the rest of ourselves.  

First year of University can be a difficult time for a lot of young people. In the UK, 6.4% of students who start University do not make it past their first year.  Whilst at some Universities this as low as 0.8%, at other it rises to 19.5% – nearly 1/5th of students do not continue to second year. On average, the drop-out rate at Universities covered by a Nightline is 40.6% lower than those not covered.

Nightline is a listening and information peer-to-peer service run by students, for students. There are 42 Nightlines associated with Universities across the UK and ROI. All Nightlines work to a highly professional standard as evidenced by our Good Practice Guidelines. Between them, over 1.8 million students have access to a Nightline service. Nightlines offer a variety of methods for students to contact them throughout the night including phone, email, instant messaging and texting. Student listening volunteers provide a space for those contacting them to talk about anything that’s on their mind. Using active listening skills volunteers facilitate conversations on a range of topics, from simpler questions about how an academic process works, to intense emotional distress.

40.6% lower dropout rates are a striking statistic. I personally believe it speaks to the value of University student support communities embracing a diverse wellbeing initiatives, and the power of the Nightline model within that.

As I’ve already mentioned, Nightline services are delivered by students themselves. Being student-run is an integral part of what makes Nightline successful. Since volunteers are students too they are able to directly empathise with many of their callers’ experiences. As a fresher arriving in a new place and meeting new people, I think there’s a great comfort to be taken in knowing that your fellow students care. Even without actually using a Nightline service, its presence – posters, publicity, outreach – can act as a valuable reminder that you’re not alone.

Being student-led allows Nightlines to become embedded in the student community. It is student representatives who do outreach, promotion and recruitment. One of Nightlines’ core principles is anonymity – callers do not have to share any identifying information. Equally, Nightline volunteers are anonymous to the wider student community. Anonymity works as an equaliser; you know the student answering the call is highly trained, but you also know that they too are experiencing all the realities of university life. It serves to reduce students’ fear of judgement, or of knowing the volunteer. Anonymity, perhaps counter-intuitively, serves to embed Nightline further into the University community. Combined with night-time opening hours, anonymity allows Nightlines to access students in a way University staff-based support traditionally might not.

I believe it is really important for Higher Education institutions to encourage student run initiatives, like Nightline. The 40.6% lower drop-out rates could perhaps be indicative not just of the impact of Nightline itself but of the wider culture of institutional support for student-run wellbeing services. Staff interventions are an incredibly important part of the student wellbeing network, and Nightline does not offer an alternative to the professional services Universities can provide but rather, is an important piece of the puzzle. Student-led initiatives, of which Nightline is only one, really do appear to me to build the resilience of the student body. With increasing student intake numbers, financial pressures and when UK first-year drop-out rates rose for the 3rd time in a row, it is important for Higher Education institutions to embrace the incredible strength of a resource they already have: their students.

If you’re a student looking to contact a Nightline, find your Nightline here:

If you’re looking to set-up or develop a Nightline at your University, contact our Set-up Team:

Sarah Rodway-Swanson
Nightline Volunteer