Kate Tonacia

Prior to taking up a position in the High Tech Crime Portfolio with the Australian Federal Police in 2006, Katie worked as a Nurse for several years. Initially she worked as an agency nurse, and then transferred over to ACT Health working at the Canberra Hospital. She was employed as a relief nurse on a casual basis while raising her three young children with her husband David; this allowed her to work combine parenting and career. Katie covered work areas such as accident and emergency, paediatrics, orthopaedics and many other wards, both in a medical and surgical setting. She later transferred permanently into the Medical Imaging Department at The Canberra Hospital. Katie was instrumental in the initiation, development and design of the first Charter for the Medical Imaging Ward, prior to deciding on a career change in 2006, when she joined the AFP.

In 2006, Katie’s husband, David, was diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder following an international deployment. This experience, their struggles as a young family, and the isolation and stigma they experienced, was the catalyst for Katie to establish Picking Up The Peaces (PUTP), an organisation which provides support, education and assistance to all uniformed service personnel and their families struggling with the debilitating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and associated mental health difficulties. This worthy and essential organisation is proudly auspiced by the Veterans Support Centre, previously named the Vietnam Veterans and Veterans Federation ACT.

Katie brings a great deal of experience to the Picking Up The Peaces organisation, not only from a professional perspective, but also personally. She has been passionate in volunteering her time to assist others, and has also been given the opportunity to further enhance her knowledge, skills and experience. Her passion became centred on trauma based mental health care, and in addressing the stigma of mental health within a uniformed service culture. One of Katie’s aspirations was to implement mental health education and awareness, focusing on PTSD and stigma, into high risk work environments.

In 2011 Katie received the prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship award, where she researched the “stigma” surrounding uniformed service personnel and post traumatic stress” – (Looking at barriers to help seeking behaviour). The most cited reason for people not seeking assistance or support, or staying in treatment when identifying with mental health difficulties is STIGMA.

Katie’s Churchill Report can be downloaded at Katie Tonacia Winston Churchill Report

Following Katie’s fellowship she re-wrote the mental health education program for Picking Up The Peaces and the education has now been delivered into high risk work environments such as the AFP International Deployment Group, ACT Fire and Rescue,

ACT Ambulance Service, ACT Health Directorate, and many more organisations. She and her husband David presented to the Australian Senior Police Chaplains conference.

Mental health education will assist with addressing the social and systemic barriers to early detection and treatment of mental health difficulties within the workplace and reduce mental health stigma. The aim of the Picking Up The Peaces education program is to encourage members to seek intervention at the pre-clinical stage of PTSD and associated difficulties, rather than at diagnosis, by which stage PTSD is acute or chronic and far more difficult to treat.

Katie and her husband David also presented to the 14th International Mental Health conference, “Is peer education the way forward in the prevention and early identification of traumatic stress and psychological injury? – An evaluation of the Mental Health Training with ACT Fire and Rescue.”

Katie has been formally acknowledged for her contribution to this field by being awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia. She was also a local ACT Australian of the year finalist for 2013 and a nominee in 2011 for her dedication to this important work. Katie has been requested by worthy and reputable organisations to provide input or advice on mental health stigma. She responded to a request from the CEO of SANE to participate in the national roundtable discussion on ideas and approaches that may help increase the understanding and decrease the stigma around mental illness for all employees nationally. She also was invited by Joint Health Command, Australian Defence Force, to participate in their Rehabilitation and Recovery Workshop. During this work-shop, Katie was acknowledged openly as an expert in the field of mental health stigma (and the culture of uniformed service personnel) by some of Australia’s leading researchers, practitioners and experts in the field.