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Undercover Illnesses: PTSD

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Not all medical conditions are easily visible on the surface. Some are often undermined and misunderstood. This week ABC 7's Jess Doudrick is taking a look at five of these 'undercover illnesses," exposing what they really are and how those around us are affected.

On the final day of the series, we investigate a disorder that is often times associated with veterans: PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder. Although veterans are most commonly diagnosed, it's a disorder that can affect children and people who have been through any type of of traumatic event.

PTSD occurs after experiencing some kind of extreme trauma or life-threatening event. That's why it's so common in veterans. It's obviously not preventable, but full recovery is possible if you can identify the symptoms in time.

Veteran Bryan Jacobs suffers from PTSD.

"You don't know who you are," Jacobs explains. "You have a lot of anxiety. You have a lot of depression. You don't fit. Then you've gone through some extreme trauma, and that trauma is something you can't explain or don't want to explain."

For Jacobs there are certain triggers that take him back to war and watching his brothers and sisters die.

"It is many things," Jacobs says. "Certain loud bangs, loud pops, those are essentially combat. You do tend to duck and always watch. A lot of veterans always face toward the door because of situations. I used to have a problem with being on the beach because of the sand. It was one of those things that I had to learn to put my mind out of that area."

Luckily, Jacobs has discovered what coping mechanisms work for him.

"That's what the tough thing is, you have to find your own coping mechanisms," he explains. "Some don't find the coping mechanisms like my younger brother who took his life 3 years ago as a veteran suicide. He couldn't find coping mechanisms. Me, I've taken the more therapeutic, artful routes. I've found food or growing stuff or brewing beer, doing stuff that use my mind for more indulgent things in life."

PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the tragedy. It's diagnosed as PTSD when those symptoms last more than a month after the trauma.

"PTSD occurs when basically the brain gets stuck in that fight or flight response," clinical practitioner and trauma specialist Kendra Simpkins explains. "It's a normal response."

Simpkins works with those with PTSD. She has patients that have experienced PTSD after a sexual assault, car accident or even Hurricane Irma.

"Some people will say, 'well why don't you just get over it? Why don't you just forget about it?' Obviously the individual would if they could, but it's not up to them," Simpkins says.

There are quite a few treatments out there like cognitive behavior therapies that take the patient through the trauma hoping to desensitize them to it. But Simpkins finds those to be long painful processes.

She does something completely different called Rapid Resolution Therapy. It's a process of talking, stories and visualizations to get the brain to understand that the trauma is no longer happening.

"Therefore it releases that fight or flight event, so they'd remember the event but no longer feel the anxiety or be triggered by the event anymore," Simpkins explains.

Simpkins says there's a big stigma of PTSD in today's society.

"It is portrayed as those with PTSD are psychotic or they're violent," Simpkins says. Neither of those even fit the criteria of PTSD."

Simpkins says there are a lot more people out there with PTSD than you'd think. She says they're quite capable of maintaining jobs and relationships and are functional members of society.

If you or a loved one needs help, called the PTSD Crisis Hotline at 866-382-2287.