Overview of Schizoaffective Disorder

When You're Not Quite Schizophrenic and Not Quite Bipolar

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What do you get when you cross schizophrenia with bipolar disorder? Schizoaffective disorder. It's actually not quite that simple, but that's an easy way to think of it. Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed when schizophrenia symptoms are present with symptoms of a mood disorder, like depression or bipolar disorder. Many of the symptoms and treatments for schizoaffective disorder overlap those of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia simply because of their similarities.

Schizoaffective Disorder Can Be Tricky to Diagnose

The boundaries between mental disorders often blur, so diagnosing them is usually not quite the same as diagnosing other disorders. Research continues to demonstrate that the mind and the body are interconnected. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) has made the criteria for schizoaffective disorder clearer than the previous edition did, making it less likely to be misdiagnosed. There are two types of schizoaffective disorder: Depressive type and bipolar type.

In order to be diagnosed, a person must have all of the following:

  1. Have had time where there were symptoms of either major depression or bipolar disorder at the same time as symptoms of schizophrenia. 
  2. Either hallucinations or delusions without the mood disorder (bipolar or depression) symptoms for at least two weeks. 
  3. The symptoms must not have been brought on due to substance abuse.
  4. The symptoms have to have been present most of the time, as well as meet the criteria for a major mood disorder (bipolar disorder or major depression).

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is sort of a blend of illnesses and may manifest itself completely differently in different people. Symptoms will vary depending on whether you have been diagnosed with the depressive type or the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder as well. Symptoms are generally quite serious and need to be carefully watched. They include hallucinations, delusions, manic behavior, depression and chaotic thoughts. 

Causes of Schizoaffective Disorder

Like every other mental illness, no one knows exactly what causes schizoaffective disorder. There is evidence that genetics may play a part, as well as the way the brain functions. though research is still underway. Stress and drug use may also play a part in developing schizoaffective disorder

Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder

Treatment almost always includes both medications and psychotherapy. Antipsychotic medications are often used to treat the thought disorder component, while antidepressants or mood stabilizers may be used for the effective component. Psychotherapy is individualized for the person. The focus is usually on helping the person provide structure for their life and on helping them modulate their emotions and cope more effectively. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a good choice for people coping with schizoaffective disorder.

How Common Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a fairly rare illness. Just an estimated 0.3% of the population has it and it affects males and females equally. 

If You've Been Diagnosed With Schizoaffective Disorder

If you have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, you should work closely with your physician and your therapist. Be sure to take your medications as prescribed and communicate openly with your mental health professionals about how you are coping. Most medications for schizoaffective disorder need to be taken every day on a regular schedule, not on an "as needed" basis.

View Article Sources
  • "Schizoaffective Disorder." National Alliance on Mental Illness (2016).
  • "Schizoaffective Disorder." Mayo Clinic (2014).