What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective Disorder is a chronic mental health disorder that exhibits symptoms of both schizophrenia (hallucinations or delusions) and a mood disorder (depression or mania). The disorder can resemble bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, and can sometimes get misdiagnosed. There are two classifications of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type (only if a manic episode occurs) and depressive type (only major depressive episodes occur).
The disorder, if left untreated, can cause significant issues in daily functioning, such as issues at work, school, or in relationships. People often withdraw socially and suffer from loneliness. However, there are various forms of treatment that can help manage the disorder over time and provide quality of life. Schizoaffective Disorder is relatively rare and affects only .03% of the population. It is diagnosed equally across genders, and tends to present earlier in males. There is also an increased risk for substance use disorders to co-occur, which necessitates an integrated treatment approach.
What Are the Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective Disorder encompasses symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, and symptoms of a major mood disorder, such as depression and mania. There must be a two-week or longer period, in the absence of a major mood episode, that the person experiences hallucinations or delusions over the full duration of the disorder.
The presentation of symptoms can vary from person to person, and the development and course of the disorder may look different for each person. Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Hallucinations: Distortions of sensory perceptions, seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there
- Delusions: Having fixed, false beliefs that reality would seemingly contradict
- Impaired communication and speech (disorganized or incoherent)
- Bizarre or odd behavior
- Depression symptoms that meet criteria for major depressive disorder
- Periods of manic episodes, with elevated energy and a decreased need for sleep over several days, and behaviors that seem uncharacteristic
- Impaired daily functioning in social, occupational, or academic settings
- Problems with managing personal care, including hygiene and physical appearance
- Changes in appetite
What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder?
The exact cause of schizoaffective disorder is unknown, and may develop through a variety of different factors. Some of those factors include:
- Genetics: There does seem to be a genetic connection with the disorder; however, just because a family member has the diagnosis, does not guarantee it will be passed on.
- Brain chemistry and structure: Through the use of brain scans and other diagnostic tools, science continues to make new findings regarding differences in brain chemistry and structure that may contribute to the development of the disorder.
- Stress: Major life events, trauma, and/or chronic or acute stress may trigger the onset of the disorder.
- Drug use: Certain drugs have been linked to the development of the disorder.
What Is the Treatment and Prognosis for Schizoaffective Disorder?
Once a diagnosis has been made through various tests and assessments, including a physical exam to rule out any underlying medical issues and a full psychological evaluation, a medical or mental health professional can discuss prognosis and treatment.
Although schizoaffective disorder is a chronic illness that a person will manage throughout life, there are effective treatments that can significantly improve quality of life. In more severe cases, hospitalization may be required to manage symptoms. Treatment also varies based on the schizoaffective type (bipolar or depressive).
The combination of treatments that have proven most effective are utilizing psychotherapy, medication, and life skills training. The following is a list of medications and treatment modalities:
- Antipsychotics: Prescribed to help manage hallucinations and delusions.
- Mood-stabilizing medications: These medications help to stabilize issues with depressive and manic episodes.
- Antidepressants: Help with depressive symptoms of despair, loneliness, worthlessness, and difficulties with motivation and focus.
- Individual therapy: Utilizing different therapeutic modalities and a strong therapeutic relationship can help those suffering with schizoaffective disorder develop a better understanding of the illness and find helpful ways to better manage the symptoms.
- Family or group therapy: This form of treatment helps to create helpful structures of support and accountability, giving the patient social connection and resources to help reduce feelings of isolation, better medication management, and develop life skills.
The adaptation and development of social and vocational skills will help those who have schizoaffective disorder improve daily functioning and increase quality of life.
- Social skills training
- Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment
Baptist Health Can Help
Schizoaffective disorder is relatively rare, but is a serious mental health condition if left untreated. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please see your Baptist Health physician and mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment options.
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