What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health disorder that is often misdiagnosed. The disorder is actually the combination of two disorders: schizophrenia and a mood disorder. There are two types of schizoaffective based on the coexisting mood disorder. The first type is bipolar and the second is depression. 

Symptoms of the disorder include hallucinations and delusions, similar to schizophrenia. People with the disorder are often misdiagnosed as having either schizophrenia or a mood disorder, like anxiety, mania, or depression – because that is how schizoaffective disorder presents itself. Oftentimes, those with schizoaffective disorder are misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. This makes sense for two reasons. First, bipolar is a subset of schizoaffective disorder. And, number two, schizoaffective is much less common and much less studied than either schizophrenia or bipolar. In fact, when treating schizoaffective disorder, many professionals will borrow interventions from bipolar and schizophrenia.  Having the disorder is extremely rare. There is a lifetime prevalence rate of only about 0.3%. It is experienced among men and women equally – no one sex is particularly at risk of developing the illness. Though, men who are diagnosed with the disorder usually get diagnosed at an earlier age. If the disorder is addressed and treatment is sought, there is a great chance the person will go on to live a normal, productive life. The disorder can be managed effectively with therapy and medication. Substance Use Disorders (SUD) are prevalent in the schizoaffective disorder community. People with schizoaffective disorder seek out drugs as a way to cope with their illness. They manage symptoms with substances. Having a dual diagnosis of substance addiction and schizoaffective is pretty common.

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

What are the Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder?

Symptoms of this disorder should be monitored closely because the symptoms of this disorder are often severe. Because there are two mood disorders schizoaffective is based on, the symptoms below mimic depression and bipolar. Also, these are symptoms you’ll see in people with schizophrenia.

  • Hallucinations are the biggest sign of this disorder. This is when a person hears or sees things that aren’t there. Some with the disorder try to hide this symptom and others will tell people about the visions. This is also a symptom of schizophrenia. 
  • Disorganized thinking is another big sign of the disorder. This happens when a person switches quickly from topic to topic. They’ll talk about unrelated things and give answers that don’t make sense to the topic. In a way, this symptom is about the person seeming to be “all over the place.” This is another shared symptom between schizoaffective and schizophrenia. 
  • Delusions are another sign of the disorder. Delusions are false beliefs that the person holds even when they’ve been told they’re wrong and there is proof they are wrong. This symptom goes along with delusional thinking, which is essentially living in a fantasy world despite evidence to the contrary. 
  • A depressed mood is a symptom that relates to the depression form of the disorder. The person will experience feelings of extreme sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, and other symptoms similar to depression. 
  • Manic behavior happens when a person gets extreme feelings of happiness, euphoria, racing thoughts, and an increase in risky behaviors. This symptom is a result of the bipolar disorder version of schizoaffective.
What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder?

We don’t know what causes the disorder, but it is thought that a combination of causes come into play. They are as follows. 

  • Genetics are a big cause because schizoaffective disorder usually runs in families. 
  • The structure and chemistry of an individual person’s brain is incredibly important too. 
  • Stress seems to trigger bouts of the disorder. Plus, extreme stress can cause the symptoms of the disorder to get worse. 
  • Drug use is linked to the disorder.

How is Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosed?

Because the symptoms of this disorder mimic schizophrenia and bipolar or depression, it is very important to get an accurate diagnosis. Work with a trained professional to determine what your specific symptoms mean. 

Treating Schizoaffective Disorder 

The disorder is treated in a few different ways. They are as follows: 

  • With medication, like mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants.
  • With psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or just plain therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may also be a good option. In some cases family therapy should be used. 
  • With self management strategies, like education, stress management, education, and more. 
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