Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders, such as depression and mania. Researchers have identified two types of schizoaffective disorder – both of which will be marked by schizophrenia symptoms: ¹
- Bipolar Type – Includes episodes of mania and, in some cases, major depression.
- Depressive Type – Includes major depressive episodes.
Since schizoaffective disorder affects everyone differently, it may be difficult for a doctor to initially diagnose. Furthermore, being as these symptoms overlap with other medical conditions, it can be hard to immediately identify the disorder.
However, schizoaffective disorder almost always leads to problems in day-to-day life, such as at work or through relationships (i.e. friends and family). For this reason, it’s important to receive help as soon as possible.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at what is schizoaffective disorder. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms
Schizoaffective disorder symptoms are divided into two categories:
- Psychotic Symptoms – Relating to schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions.
- Mood Disorder Symptoms – Relating to bipolar disorder or depression.
While it’s not clear how long it takes this condition to develop, most people are diagnosed after a major mood episode (either manic or depressed) and at least 2 weeks of psychotic symptoms.
Common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder that involve these two sets include: ²
- Abnormal behaviors
- Delusions (having false beliefs even though evidence for the contrary exists)
- Depressive symptoms (i.e. feeling empty, sad, and worthless)
- Difficulty with communication and speech
- Hallucinations (i.e. hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there)
- Inability to function in work, school, or social events
- Manic symptoms (i.e. increased energy, behaviors out of character)
- Problems with personal care (i.e. hygeine and physical appearance)
Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors
Schizoaffective disorder may lead to suicidal ideation – thoughts and behaviors relating to suicide. Especially in those who struggle with the depressive type. ³
If you or a loved one has been contemplating suicide, you need to reach out for help immediately. In cases of an emergency, it’s vital to call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room.
For other cases, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
Schizoaffective Disorder Risk Factors
Researchers still don’t know what causes schizoaffective disorder. However, they’ve found that those in the following circumstances are more vulnerable to the condition:
- Genetics – If you have a close family member (i.e. parent, sibling) with schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, you’re more likely to struggle with it. ⁴
- Stressful Events – Sometimes, symptoms of the condition develop after a person undergoes a stressful event. ⁵
- Substance Abuse Disorder – Certain mind-altering drugs may worsen symptoms of those with or susceptible to schizoaffective. However, it’s unlikely drug use itself will cause this condition. ⁶
Schizoaffective Disorder Complications
If you struggle with schizoaffective disorder, you’re at an increased risk of:
- Alcohol and other substance abuse
- Anxiety disorders
- Health complications
- Poverty and homelessness
- Problems with family and other interpersonal relationships
- Social isolation
- Suicidal ideation
- Work difficulties (i.e. unemployment)
How is Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosed?
If you believe you’re struggling with schizoaffective disorder, you’ll want to receive a diagnosis from a mental health professional. In order to determine this diagnosis, you’ll have to take:
- Physical Exams – to determine that your symptoms aren’t due to another underlying complication.
- Tests and Screenings – to figure out there’s an underlying condition or if drug or alcohol abuse is furthering symptoms.
- Psychiatric Evaluation – to learn more about your symptoms, mood, delusions, hallucinations, and how vulnerable you are to suicide. Furthermore, a psychiatrist will ask about your family and personal history to give you a more accurate diagnosis.
Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment
When it comes to treating schizoaffective disorder, the best route is a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and training for life skills. While this condition cannot be cured, this combination can help to greatly decrease the severity of symptoms and provide long-term fulfillment in the patient. ⁷
Since schizoaffective disorder affects everyone differently, your doctor will give you one (or more) of the following medications based on your symptoms:
- Antipsychotics – Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for schizoaffective disorder, the antipsychotic paliperidone (Invega) has been found to help with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. ⁸
- Mood-Stabilizing Medication – For those who struggle with the bipolar type, mood stabilizers can help even out mania highs and depression lows.
- Antidepressants – If you struggle with depression through schizoaffective disorder, then you may benefit from antidepressant medication.
Alongside medication, psychiatrists will also recommend psychotherapies (also known as talk therapies), including:
- Individual Therapy – A one-on-one session where you help to identify and normalize thought patterns. Through this, you’ll be able to reduce symptoms and build up strengths through life (i.e. relationships, work, etc.).
- Family or Group Therapy – You may find therapy more effective if you’re able to discuss your problems with others. Group therapy helps to create a support system and reduce social isolation found in psychotic disorders.
In order to further reduce isolation and improve your quality of life, you may find the following helpful:
- Social Skills Training – A practice where you’ll learn how to improve communication and social interactions found in everyday activities. This training can help to condition specific behaviors and develop new skills. ⁹
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Supported Employment – If you struggle with finding and/or maintaining a job, this practice can help prepare you better. ¹⁰
While schizoaffective disorder isn’t curable, there are a number of ways to help reduce symptoms. Through treatment, many schizoaffective patients are able to live fulfilling life and manage themselves in professional and social environments.
Still have questions about schizoaffective disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ StatPearls: Schizoaffective Disorder
² MedlinePlus: Schizoaffective disorder
³ Suicide & life-threatening behavior: Suicidal behavior in schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder: examining the role of depression
⁴ Schizophrenia Bulletin: Genetic Relationships Between Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizoaffective Disorder
⁵ Journal of affective disorders: Life events in schizoaffective disorder: A systematic review
⁶ Alcohol Research (Current Reviews): Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder
⁷ Psychiatry (MMC): Treatment of Schizoaffective Disorder
⁸ Neurology and Therapy (Springer): Paliperidone Palmitate for Schizoaffective Disorder: A Review of the Clinical Evidence
⁹ Schizophrenia Bulletin: Recent Advances in Social Skills Training for Schizophrenia
¹⁰ Schizophrenia research: Effects of integrated supported employment plus cognitive remediation training for people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders