Psychosis is a severe mental health problem that affects many people each year in the United States. But what if you’re also dealing with depression alongside psychotic symptoms. Either one of these problems can be a real challenge in your life, but together, they may point to a complex problem called schizoaffective disorder. Learn more about schizoaffective disorder, depression, and how both of these mental health issues can be diagnosed.

Depression is one of the major factors that separates schizoaffective disorder from other psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Depression is a symptom of a major mood disorder, which can include diagnoses like major depression, bipolar disorder, and persistent depressive disorder.

Mood disorders are characterized by significant high and low moods that exceed the normal range. A low mood is considered depression and a very high mood called mania. An elevated mood may sound positive, but mania can cause serious consequences, like delusional thinking, poor decision making, financial instability, and strained relationships.

depressive psychosis

When someone experiences both mania and depression, they may have bipolar disorder, which involves vast mood swings between depression, mania, and normalcy. However, schizoaffective disorder also has elements of psychotic disorders. Psychosis is a term for symptoms like delusions, extreme paranoia, and hallucinations.

Hallucinations involve seeing and hearing things that aren’t there, and other people can’t see or hear. Delusions are false beliefs about reality. For instance, someone with a paranoid delusion might believe there is a government plot against them, even despite evidence to the contrary.

Schizoaffective disorder is like a combination of a major mood disorder and schizophrenia, where psychotic symptoms are accompanied by high and low moods.

Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder

There are no lab tests that can tell you that you have schizoaffective disorders, so medical and clinical professionals need to use other methods to diagnose these kinds of mental health issues. Because schizoaffective disorder can also share similarities with bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, and other issues, it can be very difficult to diagnose. In fact, it’s called one of the most difficult disorders to diagnose in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 has the following criteria for diagnosing schizoaffective disorder:

  • The patient has to have experienced psychotic symptoms for two weeks without mood disorder symptoms.
  • The patient has to have experienced an uninterrupted major mood episode for two weeks, alongside psychotic symptoms.

Depression can sometimes be a symptom of schizophrenia, without qualifying as schizoaffective disorder. However, that would mean the depression isn’t enough to meet the criteria for major mood symptoms alongside schizophrenia. Both sets of symptoms also must impair your life to be considered a schizoaffective disorder.

Depression can significantly complicate your life, especially if you’re also dealing with symptoms of psychosis. The differences may seem minor, but the right diagnosis is extremely important.

Schizoaffective disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia all have different prognoses and treatment options. But all three are treatable, and if you work with a medical or clinical professional, you may be able to find a treatment that works for you.

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