How Schizoaffective Disorder Is Treated

Psychology therapy session. Female patient talking to mental health professional.

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Schizoaffective disorder is a condition that causes you to experience symptoms such as mania, delusions, and hallucinations. There is currently no cure for this condition, with symptoms expressing themselves in different ways across the lifespan. However, effective treatment options combine psychotherapy and medication to make living with the condition more manageable. Without treatment, symptoms of this condition tend to worsen in severity and could lead to problems with functioning and an increased risk for suicide.

Medication treatment of schizoaffective disorder commonly involves antipsychotic medication, often in combination with mood stabilizers and antidepressants.

Psychotherapy 

A combination of medication and psychotherapy is the best route for the effective treatment of schizoaffective disorder. The most common psychotherapy approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, supportive therapy, and family involvement.

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The main aim of CBT is to help a person with this condition increase their awareness of distorted thoughts and behaviors that might be contributing to symptoms, and develop more rational and adaptive ways to cope. CBT can also be helpful for managing psychotic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. 

Other Therapies 

There are other psychotherapeutic approaches that may be helpful in managing schizoaffective disorder. Some of the most common include: 

  • Family therapy: A diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder can affect the family of a person with the condition. Family involvement in your treatment is essential to get your closest family and friends on the same page about your treatment. They can also offer valuable insight into your symptoms and help you manage your treatment plan outside of the doctor's office. 
  • Art therapy: Art therapy may be helpful for people who struggle with articulating their struggles and symptoms with this condition. Art therapy gives you a medium other than words to communicate your feelings and emotions. 
  • Psychoeducation: Learning more about your illness in a supportive treatment relationship has been shown to improve the overall course of the illness.
  • Support groups: Support groups provide a healthy and safe environment to meet other people who have the same condition as you. 

Medication 

Healthcare providers will typically prescribe a combination of medications to treat schizoaffective disorder. Treatment aims to make symptoms such as delusions and depression more manageable. Antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants are most commonly prescribed to treat symptoms.

It's essential to take your medication regularly and as prescribed by your doctor. With medication, you can think more clearly and function more effectively. They can also help reduce the occurrence and severity of mood, which are a symptom of this condition. 

In most cases, you might need to be on medication your whole lifetime. However, if your doctor recognizes an improvement in your symptoms, they might reduce your dosage or discontinue some of the medication you are on. It's not advised to stop taking the medication without consulting your doctor, even if you think you are feeling better or experiencing any mild side effects. Some people might experience side effects when using any of these drugs. Your healthcare provider will provide you with more detailed insight into each medication and how it might affect you. 

Antipsychotics 

Antipsychotics are prescribed to help manage symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Invega (paliperidone) is currently the only drug approved by the FDA specifically for treating schizoaffective disorder. Invega is available as both an oral tablet or a long-acting injectable. Other antipsychotics that are often prescribed off-label for the treatment of this condition include: 

Mood Stabilizers 

People with schizoaffective disorder might sometimes experience a severe mood swing with a persistently elevated (or irritable) mood and energy known as a manic episode. Mood stabilizers like Lamictal (lamotrigine), Lithobid (lithium), and Depakote (divalproex) are typically used to treat conditions like bipolar disorder and are commonly prescribed in schizoaffective disorder.

Antidepressants 

It's common to have feelings of sadness or demoralization in the face of a serious mental illness such as schizoaffective disorder. However, clinically significant major depressive episodes can often be part of the condition. In these cases, antidepressants may be prescribed.

There are many different types of antidepressants, but selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most commonly prescribed and include Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline).

Side Effects of Medications

Like most medications, the medications prescribed for schizoaffective disorder could cause side effects. In most cases, these side effects are mild and manageable. However, if you are experiencing persistent and severe side effects, you should speak to your healthcare provider about it. Some common side effects of medications for schizoaffective disorder include: 

  • Antidepressants: Side effects experienced when using antidepressants typically depends on the type of antidepressant you are taking. Some common side effects of antidepressants include insomnia, fatigue, sexual side effects, headache, dry mouth, constipation, nausea, or diarrhea.  
  • Antipsychotics: Weight gain, drowsiness, slowed movement, tremor, and restlessness are some side effects of using antipsychotics. 
  • Mood stabilizers: Common side effects of mood stabilizers include nausea, diarrhea, weight gain, and dizziness. 

Alternative Treatment Options

In some instances, a combination of medication and psychotherapy might not be effective enough for certain symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. In such cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be considered.

ECT has been commonly used to treat severe and refractory depression effectively. It is also occasionally used for mania that doesn't adequately respond to medications. It works by transmitting an electrical impulse into the brain while someone is under anesthesia, causing a brief seizure.

In a 2015 study on the effectiveness of ECT, researchers found that it's a safe and effective method for people with severe symptoms of this condition.

How to Make Your Treatment Most Effective 

Schizoaffective disorder is a serious and lifelong mental health condition. If you've been diagnosed with this condition, it means you'll likely be treating its symptoms for the rest of your life. The good news is that there are effective treatments and therapies that can make your symptoms more manageable. Here are some tips to make these treatments most effective: 

  • Cut out drugs and alcohol: You should avoid alcohol and any substances that are not your prescription drugs when treating schizoaffective disorder. Alcohol and certain substances can interfere with your treatment. 
  • Have a daily routine: Sticking to a constant daily routine can make symptoms of mania and depression more manageable. 
  • Have a support system: Maintain a healthy relationship with your family and friends. Keep them updated on your treatment plan and progress, and allow them to support you in whatever ways they can. 
  • Keep stress in check: Being stressed can exacerbate your symptoms even if you are getting treated for this condition. 
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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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