What Is Schizoaffective Disorder: Bipolar Type?

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Schizoaffective disorder is a form of mental illness that has the features of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder. It has two variations: bipolar type and depressive type.

A hallmark feature of bipolar type schizoaffective disorder is the presence of manic episodes. Manic episodes include periods of heightened emotion, ranging from joy to rage.

Schizoaffective disorder is misdiagnosed with such frequency that some have called to eradicate the disorder from the DSM-5. This is because its symptoms overlap with many other mental illnesses, making it challenging to diagnose, thus increasing barriers to treatment. 

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that exists on a spectrum, with cyclothymia being the mildest diagnosis and bipolar I being the most severe diagnosis. Due to the variation in this mood disorder, one can imagine how difficult it is to experience those symptoms alongside schizophrenic features. 

History of Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder

Before this illness was called schizoaffective disorder, it was referred to as “schizoaffective psychosis,” first identified by psychiatrist Jacob Kasanin in 1933.

Nearly 20 years later, the first and second editions of the DSM categorized schizoaffective disorder as a variation of schizophrenia and a form of a psychotic disorder.

After clinicians struggled to diagnose patients properly, schizoaffective disorder became a diagnosis in 1987’s DSM-III-R.

Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms

Before we dive into the symptoms of bipolar type schizoaffective disorder, it is essential to remember that none of the symptoms can be substance-induced for a diagnosis of this illness. If you've taken a substance that produces one of the symptoms of bipolar type schizoaffective disorder, this does not qualify for a diagnosis of this disorder.

First, there are the psychotic symptoms that mirror schizophrenic features, such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech (speaking incoherently, e.g., jumping from topic to topic)
  • Disorganized behavior (e.g., inappropriate laughter amid a crisis, becoming unexpectedly rageful, or behaving like a child.)

Next are the bipolar features. To differentiate between bipolar type and depressed type, note that those with the depressive type will only experience a depressed mood while those with the bipolar type will experience manic behavior. Those with the bipolar type may experience the following:

  • Unexplained feelings of euphoria
  • An increase in energy
  • Excessive spending
  • Uncharacteristic sexual behavior
  • Impulsive actions that have negative consequences

Causes of Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder

While researchers do not know the exact cause of schizoaffective disorder, there are some possible causes. Let's take a look at them.

Genetic Link

Schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder both carry a genetic link. So, you’re more likely to develop the illness if someone in your family has it. However, it isn’t a guarantee, and professionals are just barely beginning to touch on the impact brain chemistry has on the development of schizoaffective disorder.

Though research on the relationship between the two is still developing, brain scans can help researchers better understand more about the brain's structure to determine whether it can be linked to a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis.

Other Factors

Some factors can trigger bipolar type schizoaffective disorder. Keep in mind that these factors alone aren’t enough to cause one to develop schizoaffective disorder. Still, if there are already risk factors like a close relative having the illness, these factors can press the condition to develop and fully present.

Stressful events—think along the lines of trauma, financial struggles, loss of stable housing, ending a relationship, or loss of significant social support—can lead to the onset of symptoms.

Substance abuse, including alcohol abuse, can exacerbate symptoms and be especially troublesome for those experiencing schizoaffective disorder.

Diagnosis of Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder

Diagnosing schizoaffective disorder is particularly challenging since its symptoms overlap with many other disorders. Furthermore, there is vast variation in how and when these symptoms present.

Don’t be discouraged—there is hope for a correct diagnosis. The best first step in getting diagnosed is to begin therapy with a licensed therapist specializing in schizoaffective disorders. They can help track your symptoms, collaborate with a psychiatrist, and come to an accurate diagnosis over time. 

Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment

Effective treatment for bipolar type schizoaffective disorder is out there. Below provides an overview of treatment options for this disorder.

Medication

The first line of support is medication. Seek out a psychiatrist with experience in schizoaffective disorder to find the proper medication for you.

Medication options include mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications. It isn’t uncommon to be prescribed a combination of a few medicines. 

Pyschotherapy

The second form of treatment is consistent psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form of therapy recommended.

In CBT, you will develop impulse control, increase your relational skills, and create specific strategies to manage triggers in your life.

There is even a type of CBT called CBTp that is cognitive-behavioral therapy specifically for psychosis. This form of therapy is an excellent addition to medication.

Affording treatment can be a hurdle in finding relief. Luckily, most major insurance providers do offer mental health coverage. If you’re having a hard time finding a provider within your network that feels like a good fit, there are low-fee mental health provisions throughout the nation.

Looking into any local low-fee clinics, mental health programs at nearby universities, and reaching out to a therapist for some referrals can all be good places to start. 

Coping With Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder

Living with bipolar type schizoaffective disorder can feel very lonely and frustrating. Due to mental health stigma and struggles in treatment options, it isn’t uncommon to feel hopeless.

Social support from folks willing to learn about your condition and support you through any episodes is vital. Asking that family members and loved ones brush up on their knowledge of this condition is the first step—you can even send them this article as a start.

Finding support from those who have this disorder is equally important. Group therapy or support groups are a place where you can connect with others who understand what you are experiencing.

Such groups are becoming more and more accessible, thanks to the rise of telehealth. Asking your mental health provider to help you sort through referrals is a great way to get started.

A Word From Verywell

You are never alone. If you are experiencing a psychiatric crisis, please reach out to your local emergency room immediately. A final reminder: Healing is possible. Trust this truth.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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6 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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