Giving ourselves permission to think about our own mental health is always important, but perhaps this year given COVID-19 and its associated challenges, it’s more important than ever.

COVID-19 has impacted all of us in some way. We’ve experienced financial hardship through job losses and loss of autonomy as our activities were restricted. As a result of these challenges there's been a widespread change in our usual psychological state, with one piece of research concluding that mental health problems have become twice as prevalent during the pandemic.

One group that's been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia is international visitors and students.

Katie Johnson, International Student Support Advisor in North Queensland, recounts on the year so far and why we can’t forget our international students during these challenging times.

“When Australia went into lockdown earlier this year I was very concerned for our International Students," Katie said.

“How would they survive with businesses closed down? Away from family, in a foreign country, in a time of so much uncertainty."

“I had one student who lost his income and was living in a church which had closed due to the pandemic. He could not afford accommodation any longer and was being fed by the local community."

"Another student had a wife and two little girls. This was their second year in Australia and the parents had no income to support their children," she said.

Katie said that above all else, we need to remember the importance of kindness.

“When our students needed us the most we stepped up. We organised a food bank on campus, which was hugely successful thanks to the generosity of staff and the local community," Katie said.

"Our on-campus coffee shop donated unsold food which was fresh and delicious, and our chefs and commercial cookery trainers prepared meals and supported not just their own students but all classes that were in need."

“We are still to understand what the far-reaching negative psychological consequences of COVID-19 will be."

“In Queensland, as we come to terms with the fact that the pandemic is here for a little while longer at least, it’s important to remember that support is available. Sometimes just having a conversation with a homesick or lonely student can change the way they think and feel," Katie said.

According to Katie, the COVID-19 conversation may be changing, but our willingness to talk isn’t.

“Life is unpredictable. We just don’t know what is going to happen next, and the only way we are going to get through this is together."

“If you need help with anything just let us know. It can be tough to ask for help, or ask questions. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and then allows you to learn something new,” she said.

Students, if you need assistance — remember that the staff at TAFE Queensland are here for you.

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