23rd Nov 2022
Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that involves psychotic symptoms similar to those that occur with schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, as well as mood disorder symptoms comparable to those occurring with major depression . The condition is more common among women when compared to men, and it is typically treated with a combination of medication and therapy .
Schizoaffective disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition that leads to symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, as well as mood disorder symptoms, like depression. A person who lives with this disorder will experience mood disorder symptoms alongside psychosis for a majority of the duration of their illness, but they also have periods during which they experience only psychosis, without mood-related symptoms. Left untreated, it can lead to social isolation and difficulty with working, caring for oneself, or functioning in daily life .
While there are general criteria that accompany schizoaffective disorder, there are also two distinct types of this mental health condition: bipolar type and depressive type. The features of each type are described below:
Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder vary based upon whether a person experiences the bipolar or depressive type of the disorder. Symptoms that can be present in all cases of schizoaffective disorder are as follows :
Symptoms of the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder include the following indicators of mania :
On the other hand, indicators of a depressive episode occurring in the depressive type of schizoaffective disorder are as follows :
As with many mental health conditions, there is no single known cause of schizoaffective disorder, but rather a variety of risk factors that are believed to contribute to the development of the condition. Experts have noted that social factors, stress, trauma, and genetics increase the risk of schizoaffective disorder. Having a relative with schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder can increase the risk that a person will develop the condition.
Schizoaffective disorder is also associated with abnormalities in brain structure and function, including the way the brain processes chemicals like dopamine . Furthermore, the use of certain drugs, especially LSD, may trigger the onset of schizoaffective disorder symptoms .
Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed using criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). A mental health professional like a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist will perform an assessment and use this manual to make a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. The DSM outlines the following criteria for diagnosing schizoaffective disorder :
Since schizoaffective disorder can look similar to schizophrenia, when a mental health professional is making a diagnosis they have to be sure to rule out schizophrenia as a diagnosis. For instance, some patients may have both schizophrenia and a co-occurring mood disorder like depression.
A distinguishing aspect to schizoaffective disorder is that individuals with this condition will have periods of at least two weeks during which they only experience psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, without any symptoms of depression or mania. .
There is no guaranteed method of preventing schizoaffective disorder, as the exact cause is unknown, but the condition can be managed with early recognition and treatment. If you or a loved one shows signs of schizoaffective disorder, reaching out to a mental health professional can connect you with the treatment that is needed to help you address the symptoms of the condition and continue to lead a fulfilling life.
Keep in mind that even if you have a family history of schizoaffective disorder, this does not mean you are guaranteed to develop the condition. If you know you have risk factors, you can take steps to maintain strong mental health by developing healthy stress management habits and avoiding the use of drugs, given substance misuse can be a risk factor for developing schizoaffective disorder .
Schizoaffective disorder is typically managed through a combination of medication and therapy . Some of these approaches are described in more detail below.
Medication can be helpful for treating symptoms of psychosis, as well as mood-related symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Some common medications used in schizoaffective disorder treatment include :
Medications can target some of the biological causes of schizoaffective disorder symptoms, such as abnormalities in dopamine and serotonin activity. Therapy is also effective, as it can help people to cope with symptoms and learn about ways to manage the disorder.
In individual sessions, a therapist can educate patients about ways to manage schizoaffective disorder, provide them with support for changing unhelpful thinking patterns, and work with them to set and track goals in order to improve the client's quality of life.
Family and group therapy sessions are also helpful. It is beneficial for family members to learn about their loved one’s mental health condition, so they can offer support. Group therapy provides a safe setting in which people with schizoaffective disorder can share their experiences and learn from others who are coping with the same struggles.
Finally, some patients with schizoaffective disorder may benefit from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This modality is typically used when other treatment methods fail, or when a patient is chronically hospitalized. ECT has been found to be beneficial for reducing aggressive behaviors and self-harm and improving functioning in people with schizoaffective disorder . ECT requires a patient to be placed under anesthesia while certain areas of the brain are stimulated electrically .
In some cases, people with schizoaffective disorder may be unable to safely care for themselves in the community. depressive symptoms may lead to suicide attempts, or manic behavior may place a person in risk of serious danger. Similarly, a person who has hallucinations and delusions may be unable to care for themselves.
If someone with schizoaffective disorder has severe symptoms, they may require hospitalization in order to achieve stability. Depending upon the laws and policies of a specific jurisdiction, a mental health professional or other healthcare provider may be able to place a person with schizoaffective disorder in the hospital involuntarily, so they can receive treatment. Once the person is stabilized and capable of living independently in the community, they can be discharged and sent home.
If you have schizoaffective disorder, it’s important to care for yourself. The following tips can help you to manage your symptoms:
If a friend or family member has schizoaffective disorder, there are things you can do to help. Consider the following strategies:
Schizoaffective disorder is uncommon and occurs only about one-third as often as schizophrenia. Estimates have shown that 0.3% of people will experience schizoaffective disorder during their lives .
With treatment, people with schizoaffective disorder can function quite well. Research suggests that around half of people with the condition have minimal symptoms and are able to maintain employment. On the other hand, when schizoaffective disorder is not treated, it can lead to complications, and a person may have difficulty functioning in daily life and taking care of themselves .
Schizoaffective disorder may seem similar to schizophrenia, but it is a distinct condition. A person with schizoaffective disorder experiences psychotic symptoms, which are also seen in schizophrenia. What makes the two conditions different is that people with schizoaffective disorder also have mood disorder symptoms related to either depression or mania. A person with schizophrenia may have depression alongside schizophrenia, but in schizoaffective disorder, a person experiences periods during which they have symptoms of psychosis in the absence of mood symptoms .