Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition in which someone experiences symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. The symptoms are often severe, and they may include delusions, hallucinations, lack of pleasure, poor attention, and decreased mood.

Many people who struggle with the disorder are misdiagnosed, and doctors often assume the individual is struggling with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Since the condition is not well-studied, most of the interventions are borrowed from other treatment approaches.Schizoaffective disorder is relatively rare, which could also stem from being misdiagnosed. However, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that a mere 0.3 percent of the population will experience the disorder. Men and women develop the illness at the same rate, and it typically develops at an early age. Schizoaffective disorder has the potential to be managed effectively with therapy and medication, but co-occuring substance abuse is a severe risk that requires integrated treatment.

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a unique mental health issue that combines features of schizophrenia and mood disorders. The disorder causes psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions very much like schizophrenia. However, unlike schizophrenia, you may also experience mood disorder symptoms like depression or mania. Because schizoaffective disorder combines complex symptoms, it’s notoriously difficult to diagnose. Many researchers continue to call for revisions to the diagnostic criteria for this disorder to be able to diagnose and treat patients more effectively. 

There are two major types of schizoaffective disorder that are separated based on the kind of mood disorder symptoms you may experience. The two types are as follows:

  1. Bipolar type. Bipolar type schizoaffective disorder involves both high and low moods. You may experience depressive episodes and manic episodes.
  2. Expressive type. This type only comes with features of depression like low mood and loss of interest in most things. 

However, schizoaffective disorder may affect people differently and people diagnosed with the disorder may have very different experiences.

Schizoaffective disorder may progress into a severe mental illness if left untreated. Like many mental health issues, schizoaffective disorder can be progressive, which means it may get worse over time. If it is left untreated, schizoaffective disorder may impair social and occupational functioning. This can make it harder to keep a job, and it could interfere with your relationships. 

While schizoaffective disorder is challenging to diagnose, it can be treated with psychotherapies and medications, leading to an improved quality of life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Schizoaffective Disorder?

Since the disorder affects such a small portion of the population, it makes it difficult for doctors to make an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, the symptoms are often severe enough to determine without a doubt that it is schizoaffective disorder. Depending on the type of mood disorder that is diagnosed, bipolar disorder, or depression, people may experience differing symptoms. Schizoaffective disorder symptoms include:

  • Delusions: These are false or fixed beliefs that are held by the individual despite contradictory evidence.
  • Hallucinations: Individuals will often see, feel, or hear things that are not there.
  • Depressed mood: If someone has been diagnosed with the disorder, they will likely experience feelings of emptiness, sadness, feelings of worthlessness, or other symptoms that are linked to depression.
  • Manic behavior: When someone is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, they will experience symptoms similar to bipolar disorder, which include feelings of euphoria, racing thoughts, or increased symptoms of mania, such as risky behavior.
  • Disorganized behavior: Someone who is experiencing the effects of the disorder may switch from one topic to another or answer questions that are irrelevant.

What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder?

Due to its rarity and complexity to diagnose the exact cause of the disorder is unknown. There is, however, a combination of factors that may contribute to the development of the disorder. These have been studied extensively by researchers, and they include:

  • Brain chemistry & structure: Brain structure and function may be different in those with schizoaffective disorder that science is only starting to understand. Brain scans have helped advance the research in this area.
  • Genetics: Those with schizoaffective disorder likely have a relative with it as well. It’s not a definitive factor that if someone in your family has the disorder that you’ll develop it as well, but it does mean the odds of development increase exponentially.
  • Stress: Stressful events such as the end of a marriage, death in the family, or loss of a job may trigger symptoms or an onset of schizoaffective disorder.
  • Drug use: Someone who is prone to developing schizoaffective disorder may trigger it with drug use. Psychoactive drugs like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) have been linked to its development in individuals.

Can Schizoaffective Disorder Go Away On Its Own?

Unfortunately, those who are diagnosed with the disorder must seek early intervention and comprehensive treatment to deal with their diagnosis. Schizoaffective disorder will not go away on its own, but the prognosis is much better than other psychotic disorders.

The treatment options are effective at minimizing the symptoms someone will experience. The critical foundation for a positive recovery is through sustained clinical treatment, which commonly includes medicine as well as psychotherapy.

Recovery success will vary from one person to another, and it’s not possible to predict someone’s rehabilitation success. While some can manage their symptoms with treatment and return to a somewhat ordinary course of life, others can manage their symptoms but will not return to a standard lifestyle. Others, however, will continue to struggle to manage symptoms, even with support and treatment.

The earlier someone gets treatment for schizoaffective disorder, the better chance they will have of minimizing psychological damage. Early intervention, however, will help avoid distress and fallout from the problematic combination of psychotic and mood symptoms.

It’s crucial to develop a working foundation in your life for recovery. A residential treatment center can be a great start that offers access to available treatment options. It will allow the individual to discover what works best for them to conquer their mental illness. While there is no cure for the disorder, continued treatment and long-term supervision can lead to a fulfilling life in recovery.

Can Schizoaffective Disorder Be Cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for schizoaffective disorder. Most mental health disorders can’t be cured, but they can be treated. Since schizoaffective disorder is so complex, finding effective treatment options may be more difficult than common mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. 

Treatment can improve your quality of life, and it may even cause symptoms to disappear altogether for some. However, symptoms may come and go over many years for some people. Still, effective treatment will improve your quality of life and equip you with the tools to manage your symptoms.

How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosed?

There are two significant differences for a diagnosis. There is a depressive type and a bipolar type. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a person must display the following symptoms:

  • Hallucinations or delusions that last for two or more weeks
  • Symptoms of a major mood disorder that are present for the majority of the illness
  • The abuse of drugs or medications will not be responsible for the symptoms
  • A period of depression or mania that occurs at the same time symptoms of schizophrenia are present

How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Treated?

Schizoaffective disorder is extremely complex, but it can be treated. The first step in treatment is getting an accurate diagnosis. This may take a trial-and-error process with your doctor or therapist. It’s important to communicate clearly and make a note of your symptoms as you experience them. When you have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, you can work with your doctor to find the best treatment for your needs. Many people with schizoaffective disorder respond to a combination of therapy and medications. You may also go through life skills training. The best treatment options may depend on the type of schizoaffective order you have and other factors. 

Here are some therapy and medication options for schizoaffective disorder. 

  • Psychotherapy 
  • Psychoeducation
  • Family therapy
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antidepressants

It’s important to note that there is no magic bullet that is effective for everyone. If you don’t find immediate success, you may need to work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you.

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