INTHEBLACK Mental Health Special Edition - Flipbook - Page 13
Mental Health and Wellbeing
W O R K S M A R T // P R O F I L E
ERIN QUINANE RESET HER CAREER AND WORK–LIFE BALANCE AFTER
SUFFERING A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN IN 2015. SHE EXPLAINS HOW SHE
BUILT HERSELF BACK UP, STARTED A PHD IN WORKFORCE COGNITIVE
HEALTH AND SWITCHED CAREERS.
STORY JESSICA MUDDITT
Erin Quinane was driving along Melbourne’s
Monash Freeway one morning when she made
a snap decision to drive into a road sign; such
was the depth of her despair.
“My intention wasn’t to die. My intention was
to crash into the sign and injure myself just
enough that I would be able to stay in hospital
and be taken care of for a few months, because
I didn’t know how to put my hand up for help.”
At the very last second, Quinane changed
her mind and continued driving – straight to
her doctor’s office.
For months, she had been suffering from
fatigue, loss of concentration, insomnia, a
constant fight-or-flight response state and a
continuous sense of sadness, but she didn’t
know that these were all symptoms of clinical
depression and corporate burnout.
“My whole body shut down physically and
mentally. I was so fatigued, my arm would get
tired after blow-drying my hair for 10 minutes.
I’d often cook a meal and forget to turn the
stove off. At work, I’d have to write everything
down because I couldn’t remember what had
happened the day before.”
Quinane was 12 years into a career that had
progressed incredibly quickly. She freely admits
that her work–life balance was terrible.
“When a career opportunity came to me,
I always said yes. I think a lot of young people
fall into that trap, whether they are too young
in terms of their leadership capability,
emotional maturity, or even taking the time
to ensure they have built a solid technical
foundation,” she says.
Quinane had studied commerce at Australian
National University before joining Deloitte as a
graduate in Canberra in 2006, where she
completed the CPA Program. She went from
graduate to manager in 18 months, which in
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hindsight she says was too quick. By 2011,
Quinane was a director and had been working
60-hour weeks for almost 10 years. She ignored
the gradual build-up of stress and the little
indicators that pointed towards mental illness.
In 2015, she suffered a nervous breakdown.
After undergoing treatment both in and out
of hospital in 2015, Quinane decided to take
a year out from corporate life and spent her
days renovating a yacht.
“For the first time in my life, I had the
opportunity to work with my hands, and
give the left side of my brain a rest. I
swapped a pair of heels for a pair of
steel-capped boots. Every morning I’d walk
down to the marina, which was my new
office. It was one of the best things I have
ever done – to take a breather, think about
how I wanted to live my life going forward
and also realise I have a long, 30-year career
ahead of me and there was no need to rush.”
Once she was feeling better, Quinane took
her lived experience of mental illness and
in-depth practical understanding of the inner
workings of organisations and executive
leadership practices, and began a PhD at
Swinburne University in 2016. Her research
seeks practical interventions, grounded in
evidence, that senior executives can implement
to protect workforce cognitive health and
better manage employee mental ill-health.
Quinane says many senior executives feel
ill-equipped to address workforce mental health.
They continue to pick low-hanging-fruit
initiatives and rely on Employee Assistance
Programs (EAP) as a one-size-fits-all solution.
Used in isolation, these have little to no effect
in reducing the clinical burden of mental illness
or mitigating the negative impact it has on
productivity and business performance.
In the course of her research, Quinane has
found that, in 2019, one in two Australian
employees experienced some form of mental
illness. Of those, two in five believed their
workplace either caused the condition or made
it worse. In 2017, two in five Australians left their
job because of poor mental health caused by a
workplace environment. These numbers are
expected to rise due to the current pandemic.
Quinane believes CEOs must make a
paradigm shift from viewing mental health
as the responsibility of the individual, and work
towards building workforce cognitive health,
where employees are cognitively firing on all
cylinders and propelling the business towards
stronger productivity and performance. Quinane
has now started her own consultancy, which
specialises in this space and which offers some
examples of corporate best practice in mental
ONE PIECE OF ADVICE
“To every Australian CEO,
please provide broader
channels beyond EAP.
Quicker clinical access to care
results in quicker diagnosis,
quicker recovery, less time
off work and an employee
who can go back to being
productive and healthy to
make your business better.”
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