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Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder can be life-crippling. When left untreated it can hamper a person’s ability to function, where he or she has to contend with negative thoughts, hallucinations, manic episodes, or delusions almost daily. 

Schizoaffective disorder can ruin relationships, cause job loss and poverty, drive substance abuse, and generate suicidal thoughts, among other negative life outcomes.

Schizoaffective order is not the same as schizophrenia, though the symptoms can be the same. Also, schizoaffective disorder is not as prevalent as schizophrenia. While an estimated 1 percent of the global population will be diagnosed with schizophrenia, just 0.3 percent will have schizoaffective disorder, according to Psychology Today.  

Although this condition can produce a host of perilous life outcomes for an impacted person, it is highly treatable. The best treatment response to schizoaffective disorder is one that incorporates a variety of approaches, including medication, psychotherapy, and life skills training says the Mayo Clinic.

If you believe you or a loved one has schizoaffective disorder, read on to learn more about what it is and available treatment options.   

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a lifelong mental illness where a person can exhibit schizophrenia symptoms like hallucinations or delusions, and mood disorder symptoms like depression or mania, says the Mayo Clinic

There are two kinds of schizoaffective disorders:

  • Bipolar type: marked by episodes of mania and sometimes major depression 
  • Depressive type: which only includes major depressive episodes

When Schizoaffective Disorder Is Present

According to PsyCom.net, the schizophrenic conditions under schizoaffective disorder include: 

  • Delusions: False beliefs, which have no evidence in reality.
  • Hallucinations: Seeing, hearing, or sensing things that are not real.
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior: Behavior that is agitated, bizarre, or the kind where someone exhibits a lack of responsiveness.
  • Disorganized speech: Uttering meaningless words or sentences that do not go together.
  • General apathy: Displaying neglect of personal hygiene, showing a lack of interest in activities, or possessing a lack of facial expressions.

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A person with schizoaffective disorder will have a mood episode that is indicative of mania or depression. 

A manic episode constitutes a period of elevated or irritable mood and increased energy or activity for at least one week. PsyCom.net says a patient must exhibit at least three of the following symptoms: 

  • Racing thoughts
  • Easily distracted
  • Increased self-esteem or sense of grandiosity
  • Needing less sleep
  • More goal-directed activity (energy)
  • Becoming more talkative
  • Engaging in risky behaviors like unsafe sex and reckless spending

For a depressive episode to be determined, a patient must exhibit five or more of the following symptoms during a two-week period: 

  • Having feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Having a depressed mood
  • Showing a lack of energy
  • Experiencing changes in weight or appetite
  • Experiencing changes in sleep
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Displaying a lack of pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed
  • Slowed movement
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide

An individual with schizoaffective disorder can have schizophrenia symptoms and depressive episodes, which is known as depressive type schizoaffective disorder. A person with schizophrenia symptoms with mania episodes or someone with mania and depressive episodes will have a bipolar type schizoaffective disorder. 

Schizoaffective Disorder Causes and Risk Factors 

While there is no one cause for schizoaffective disorder, a combination of factors can cause it to develop. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), those potential factors include:  

Genetics: Schizoaffective disorder can run in families. Even if a relative has the condition, it does not mean you are certain to get it. However, its presence in your family could increase the likelihood that you develop the condition. 

Brain chemistry and structure: WebMDstates that people with schizophrenia and mood disorders might have issues with brain circuits that manage mood and thinking.

Stress: Events like a death in the family, divorce, or job loss can be enough to trigger symptoms or the onset of the disorder.

Drug use: LSD and other psychoactive substances have been linked to the development of schizoaffective disorder.

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The Harmful Effects of Schizoaffective Disorder

When left untreated, schizoaffective disorder has the ability to overtake and ruin your life. The Mayo Clinic states that schizoaffective disorder is capable of causing life impairments, including:

  • Suicide, suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts
  • Family and interpersonal conflicts
  • Social isolation
  • Job loss
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Significant health problems
  • Issues with alcohol or other forms of substance abuse
  • Poverty and homelessness

Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder

A combination of medication, psychotherapy, skills training, and hospitalization can be used to help patients manage schizoaffective disorders. According to WebMD, this multilayered treatment approach can look like the following:

Antipsychotic medications are typically prescribed to treat the psychotic symptoms of schizoaffective disorder such as delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking. The Mayo Clinic adds when the schizoaffective disorder is of the bipolar type, mood-stabilizing medications can be used to help level out the highs from mania and lows from depression.  When depression is the predominant mood disorder, a patient can be prescribed antidepressants to help with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or trouble sleeping and concentrating.

WebMD states that this treatment approach helps patients learn about their condition, set goals, and manage everyday problems that arise. Family therapy can also be incorporated into treatment, which helps relatives to better understand and support a loved one with schizoaffective disorder.

Skills training helps patients with work and social skills, grooming, hygiene, self-care, and other daily activities. They also learn money and home management skills. Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment can help patients to prepare for, find and keep jobs state the Mayo Clinic.

Psychotic episodes can cause patients to become suicidal or cause harm to others. These reasons are why hospitalization may be required for someone with schizoaffective disorder.

Schizoaffective Disorder, Substance Abuse, and Dual Diagnosis Treatment

There is a significant link between mental health disorders and issues with substance abuse. In cases such as these, dual-diagnosis treatment may be recommended. A dual diagnosis program is designed to treat the mental health and substance abuse issues that co-occur. 

A dual diagnosis program will feature evidence-based therapy and care that have been proven to treat patients with schizoaffective disorders and substance use disorders.

Sources

Mayo Clinic. (2017, October 27). Schizoaffective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizoaffective-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354509

Mayo Clinic. (2017, October 27). Schizoaffective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizoaffective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354504

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Schizoaffective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/schizoaffective-disorder

Psychology Today. (n.d.). Schizoaffective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/schizoaffective-disorder

PsyCom.net. (n.d.). Schizophrenia vs Schizoaffective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/schizophrenia-vs-schizoaffective-disorder-difference

WebMD. (n.d.). Schizoaffective Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/mental-health-schizoaffective-disorder#1

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