How to help someone with schizoaffective disorder

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD
Author: Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Schizoaffective disorder is a psychiatric condition that involves both the psychotic symptoms seen in schizophrenia, as well as the presence of mood disorder symptoms related to either mania, depression, or both. Early treatment and intervention are essential for ensuring the best outcome for someone with schizoaffective disorder, so it’s important to know how to help if a loved one has this mental health condition [1].

How to tell if a loved one is suffering from schizoaffective disorder

The first step in helping someone with schizoaffective disorder is recognizing when they are showing symptoms of this condition. Early engagement in quality treatment is the best way to ensure positive outcomes for someone with schizoaffective disorder [1], so knowing the early warning signs of the pyschotic disorder is helpful.

Based upon research with individuals who eventually receive a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, some early warning signs of the condition are mood swings and symptoms of either depression or mania. For the typical patient, these symptoms appear during the late teens to early 20s [2].

Symptoms of mania that could be early warning signs of schizoaffective disorder include [3]:

  • Extremely elevated or “high” mood
  • Irritability
  • Increased activity levels
  • Inability to sleep, or reduced need for sleep
  • Rapid speech and/or racing thoughts
  • Feeling extremely talented or powerful
  • Overindulging in pleasurable activities, such as eating, sex, substance abuse, or shopping
  • Being overly productive without becoming tired

On the other hand, depressive symptoms that may appear in the early stages of schizoaffective disorder include [3]:

  • Feeling very down or anxious
  • Slowed down or restless movements
  • Sleep disturbances, which may manifest either as being unable to sleep, waking up too early, or sleeping more than usual
  • Difficulty with concentration and decision-making
  • Losing interest in enjoyable activities
  • Feeling extremely fatigued, to the point that it is difficult to get things done
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless, or having thoughts of suicide

While the warning signs above can indicate a risk for developing schizoaffective disorder in the future, they can also be signs of major depression or bipolar disorder. Someone who has schizoaffective disorder will show the mood disorder symptoms above, as well as some or many of the following psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, which include [1]:

  • Delusions (false beliefs that remain, even when a person has evidence that they are not true)
  • Hallucinations (hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling, or tasting things that aren’t actually present)
  • Incoherent speech
  • Odd or catatonic movements
  • Negative symptoms (reduced emotional expression or lack of motivation)

How to help a loved one with schizoaffective disorder

If a friend or family member shows signs of schizoaffective disorder, or is already diagnosed with the condition, offering help and support can make a significant improvement to their quality of life. Below are some key tips for helping someone with schizoaffective disorder.

Learn about the condition

One of the best ways to support someone who has a psychiatric condition like schizoaffective disorder is to learn about the mental health condition. When you learn more about what your loved one is experiencing, you’ll have a better understanding of their symptoms, and you’ll be less likely to take undesirable or unusual behavior personally.

If you’re looking to learn more, you may benefit from attending support groups for loved ones affected by a family member’s mental illness. Support groups provide a safe space for sharing information and stories, and you may learn from those who are going through similar challenges with a loved one.

Encourage your loved one to seek treatment

Early treatment and intervention help to ensure more positive outcomes for people who have conditions like schizoaffective disorder [1]. Talk with your loved one about the importance of caring for themselves with a proper treatment plan.

If they’re fearful of reaching out for help, offer to go to an appointment with them, or help them make that first phone call to schedule an assessment. Reiterate to your loved one that treatment has helped many people to feel better.

Look for signs of relapse

While treatment for schizoaffective disorder can be effective, this doesn’t mean that symptoms will never return or worsen. If you can identify warning signs of a relapse in your loved one, you can encourage them to reach out for help before symptoms become severe. A relapse simply means that it’s time to re-engage in treatment or try a new approach to managing the mental health condition.

Some signs that a person may be relapsing to a depressive episode include fatigue or a low mood, or in the case of a manic episode, rapid speech combined with reduced sleep [4]. Warning signs of a return of psychotic symptoms may include social isolation, odd thinking patterns, or strange beliefs.

Look after your loved one

Checking in on someone who lives with schizoaffective disorder can have a positive effect on their mental health. They may not always be willing to reach out for help, so checking in with regular phone calls or visits can be extremely helpful.

You might also consider visiting with the person or scheduling regular outings together, such as shopping trips or evening walks in the park. This gives you a chance to connect with your loved one and check on how they’re doing.

Remain calm in crisis

Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but remaining calm when your loved one is upset or going through a crisis is essential. Yelling at them or allowing yourself to become angry or aroused will simply escalate the situation.

Try your best to speak in a calm voice, listen to what your loved one is saying, and validate their feelings. Remaining calm will help them to feel heard and allow you to move toward a solution. If your loved one is enraged or taking frustrations out on you, it’s important to remember that this is a manifestation of their mental health condition, and not evidence of something you’ve done wrong [4].

Putting forth the effort to help someone who lives with schizoaffective disorder provides them with the support and encouragement they need to care for their mental health.  Ultimately, it’s essential to ensure that your loved one stays engaged in treatment, which typically involves a combination of medication and talk therapy to manage symptoms [1].

  1. Wym, T.J. P., & Saadabadi, A.  (2022). Schizoaffective disorder. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 16, 2023, from
  2. Berk, M., Dodd, S., Callaly, P., Berk, L., Fitzgerald, P., de Castella, A.R., Filia, S., Filia, K., Tahtalian, S., Biffin, F., Kelin, K., Smith, M., Montgomery, W., & Kulkarni, J. (2007). History of illness prior to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 103(1-3), 181-186.
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. (February 2023). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Schizoaffective disorder. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from
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Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD
Author Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD Medical Reviewer, Writer

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD is a medical reviewer, licensed social worker, and behavioral health consultant, holding a PhD in clinical psychology.

Published: Aug 21st 2023, Last edited: Oct 27th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Aug 20th 2023