Psychology undergrad Aoife Casey is a volunteer for NiteLine, an anonymous service run by and for university students
“I got involved in NiteLine in my second year of college at UCD. I remember seeing posters for the service around the campus and it really struck a chord with me. People can struggle in college for lots of different reasons and it seemed like a really vital service.
I did my interview in September 2018. They asked me why I wanted to be in the service and I explained that I was studying psychology and I was really interested in mental health. Plus, it seemed like a good way of getting involved in student welfare and well-being.
A month later, I started my training. At NiteLine, we’re trained in the Samaritans model of confidentiality, a non-judgemental attitude and non-directiveness, which means we don’t give advice to people. We’re just there to listen and help them come to their own conclusions.
Last semester we did 995 calls — 361 phone calls and 634 through instant messaging. It works out at between five to seven calls a night.
I can still remember the first time I took a call. I was a little nervous at first but it went really well. At the end of the call, the person said ‘thanks for helping’ and I really felt like I was after making a valuable contribution to their day. I felt like I helped that person, and it drove home to me how important this service is.
Some NiteLine calls are longer than others. Two hours is the max length of call we can take because volunteer welfare is really important, so that has to be upheld. I’ve done a two-hour call and, honestly, they go really fast, you’d be surprised.
We get some silent calls. In that situation we just encourage [the caller] and say, ‘I’m still here if you want to talk’. Sometimes people just want some level of company, even if they are not talking.
We also get a lot of callers who ask if we are actually a confidential service, which is a typical Irish thing given that everyone knows everyone.
We always tell them that confidentiality is one of our main pillars and that eases their nerves a bit. We also tell them that we’re 100pc anonymous.
I’m now a public face for NiteLine so what that means is that I’ve given up my anonymity in order to publicise the service. But we have 100 volunteers, and only six or seven of us are public faces.
Everyone else is anonymous, so you’re not going to be sitting there thinking, ‘Mary in my exam on Monday morning is going to know it was me’.
NiteLine is open every night of term and our hours at the moment are 8.30pm to 12.30am. Our pre-Covid hours were 9.30pm to 2.30am, and we’re hoping to get back to that soon.
Last semester our main call topics were loneliness, college, mental health and relationships. In NiteLine we define relationship calls under two different brackets: non-romantic, which is family/friends, and romantic relationships.
Relationships, whether platonic or romantic, are a key area of student life, so our volunteers are trained extensively on how to take calls in areas such as break-ups, cheating, arguments and LGBTQ+.
Loneliness can mean different things to different people. For some it can be the adjustment to the whole college environment — that can have a huge effect on people. For others it’s about how college is structured at the moment. That’s affecting students in a whole range of ways.
Personally speaking, all my lectures are now done over Zoom. You’re not meeting anyone or going on campus as you normally would. I could have online lectures and then research assignments in the evening, so you’re staring at a screen for literally the whole day.
Young people are trying to get that college experience through a screen instead of actually being in lectures, and they’re trying to engage with materials online instead of on campus. It takes a lot of perseverance. It’s like, ‘Come on, Aoife, you really need to do this lecture’, but it’s so easy to just go on TikTok or Instagram instead of doing work.
And it’s not like when you’re in secondary school, where if you don’t do your homework you get a black mark in your journal. If you don’t hand in an assignment in college, it’s on you. So you need to have a level of get-up-and-go when it comes to doing college work during the pandemic, because you are there for yourself.
Students are trying to become accustomed to this new way of education and they call us when they’re worried about deadlines, trying to get all their assignments done or if their exams are coming up.
There are also levels of stress and anxiousness surrounding everything that’s going on at the moment, and significant sadness as a result of that. Covid is affecting student mental health. If it’s not the actual call topic, it tends to come into it.
And some students feel unfairly blamed for the pandemic. A lot of young people are taking this pandemic really seriously, so we shouldn’t paint everyone with the same brush.
If someone is stressed or upset on a call, one of the main things I would ask them is, ‘Have you talked to anyone about this?’ I was in a Jigsaw [The National Centre for Youth Mental Health] talk recently and they were talking about the One Good Adult policy where every young person should have one good adult they can talk to.
And I think that’s a big part of it — actually speaking about how you’re feeling, whether it’s with us or with friends or family.
When you work for a listening service like NiteLine, it’s really important to check in with yourself after taking a call and to have a really good self-care routine.
My self-care routine involves mindfulness, meditation and getting out for a walk. A little bit of Netflix helps too!”