Graphic: RFDS mental health patient Jo French
Jo French is the first to admit that life as the owner of a sheep station in outback South Australia’s Gawler Ranges is as rewarding as it is exhausting and isolating.
During shearing season, Jo and her husband employ dozens of workers on their property – in a single day, Jo might be required to prepare meals, travel into town to source urgent machinery parts, all while providing hands-on help in the yard.
“When shearing is on, it’s just go, go, go. By the end of the night, you’re exhausted,” she said.
“The biggest challenge out here on the station is the remoteness, isolation and not having someone to talk to face-to-face in general if I’m having a bad day.
“You can’t just walk around the corner and have a coffee with a friend.”
Last year, Jo’s father who also lived rurally, was diagnosed with cancer. Given three months to live, he moved to Adelaide for full-time care. The time and emotional pressures of juggling family and work commitments led Jo to breaking point.
“I had to be here, but try to be with my dad, so I was flying down to Adelaide every week backwards and forwards to see him until he passed,” she said.
“That took its toll on me immensely – I hit a wall and I didn’t realise it until my daughter and my husband rang the Flying Doctor for me.
"No word of a lie, if the RFDS hadn’t come into my life I doubt I’d probably be here because I didn’t realise how deep I was in."
Jo was referred to the RFDS’s dedicated Mental Health and Wellbeing team, which provides treatment and support through telehealth services and face-to-face visits to outback communities where there are no other clinical mental health services.
Ongoing one-on-one video calls every week with RFDS Mental Health Clinician Zelda provided Jo with extra support to navigate her circumstances.
“Just talking to Zelda and acknowledging that I was totally exhausted made me realise that I was going under,” she said.
“She pointed me in the right direction and talked me through everything right up until I lost my dad.”
Zelda said it had been inspiring to witness Jo’s courageous journey.
“My approach has always been to find some sort of connection with my clients. Because I grew up on a station in Africa, there was that shared connection,” Zelda said.
“Just seeing Jo go from so overwhelmed to coming into her own – it has been so rewarding.”
Jo’s experience with the Flying Doctor has driven her to become a local mental health advocate, particularly for women living at outback stations and rural properties.
“My journey with the Flying Doctor has been an absolute lifesaver,” she said.
“I have referred quite a few people and spoken to them about it – even recently I spoke to a friend and she’s had a phone call and is already on the path.
“It’s good to help make a difference – if I can help just one person, I’m happy.”