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How Schizoaffective Disorder and Bipolar Disorder Are Related

Schizoaffective disorder is a complicated mental health problem that shares similarities with both psychotic and mood disorders. Because it’s so complex, it’s often misdiagnosed. A proper diagnosis is essential to getting the right treatment for it. Even similar disorders may call for different treatment strategies and medications. Learn more about schizoaffective disorder and how it relates to bipolar disorder. 

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a complex mental health issue that’s characterized by psychotic symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia. Symptoms may include hallucinations, which happen when people see or hear things that aren’t there, or delusions, which are false beliefs. However, in addition to psychosis symptoms, a person may also experience mood disorders, such as depression.

There are two types of schizoaffective disorders. The depressive type includes symptoms of major depression, and the bipolar type includes manic episodes and some depressive symptoms. Schizophrenia may also come with some depression symptoms, but not for as long as schizoaffective disorder.

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How is Bipolar Similar to Schizoaffective Disorder?

Extreme moods characterize bipolar disorder. It’s often thought that bipolar disorder causes severe and sudden mood swings, but moods can last for days or months before they change. Someone with bipolar disorder will experience shifts between depression, normal mood, and mania. Bipolar disorder is also separated into two types

Bipolar I comes with episodes of mania that last for seven days or an episode that requires hospitalization. A person may also experience symptoms of depression. Bipolar II is defined by depression mixed with hypomania, which isn’t as intense as a full manic episode. 

Bipolar disorder can sometimes cause intense manic episodes that cause delusions. Mania is a heightened mood in which a person may feel happy, excited, and even invincible. People in manic episodes have often planned elaborate trips or spent large amounts of money they couldn’t afford to lose. In some cases, delusions can become paranoia or delusions of grandeur. For instance, they may believe there is some invisible nefarious force that only they can stop. 

Because a manic episode can cause psychotic symptoms, it can be challenging to tell the difference between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with manic symptoms. 

Telling the Difference

There has been some debate as to whether or not schizoaffective disorder should be its own diagnosis. Some say it should be a category of schizophrenia, severe depression, or bipolar disorder. However, as of this writing, it has its own diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Currently, schizoaffective disorder is a distinct diagnosis that’s characterized by both schizophrenia and mood disorder symptoms. 

For it to qualify as schizoaffective disorder and not one of the disorders it can mimic, both mood disorder and schizophrenia symptoms have to have adversely impacted someone’s life. The criteria for schizoaffective disorder include:

  • Symptoms of schizophrenia for two weeks without major mood disorder symptoms; and
  • Major mood symptoms alongside schizophrenia symptoms for an uninterrupted period

If schizophrenia symptoms happen only during mood disorder episodes, it could be severe psychotic depression or severe bipolar disorder. 

Seek Professional Advice

The ambiguous nature of many mental health disorders is a testament to the importance of effective mental health care. If you believe you’re struggling with mental health issues, it’s important to seek professional help. By working with medical and clinical professionals, you may be able to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. 

Sources

Mayo Clinic. (2019, November 9). Schizoaffective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizoaffective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354504

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). What is Psychosis? Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/raise/what-is-psychosis.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2020, January). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Abrams, D. J., Rojas, D. C., & Arciniegas, D. B. (2008, December). Is schizoaffective disorder a distinct categorical diagnosis? A critical review of the literature. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2646642/

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