What Is It?
You’ve been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder – what are you experiencing? Hallucinations? Delusions? How do you feel? Depressed? Manic? Schizoaffective disorder is characterized by two types of mental disorders – schizophrenia and mood disorder. If you have schizoaffective disorder, you experience symptoms of both a loss of contact with reality and a type of mood disorder – depression or mania. If you are coping with schizoaffective disorder, you might have originally been misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia, depression, major depression, or bipolar disorder. This is because of the overlap between these mental health conditions that present themselves in schizoaffective disorder. If you suffer from this condition, you do not meet the necessary diagnostic symptoms for either schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder alone. Rather, your symptoms represent a combination of them – psychosis and a mood disorder. This is why schizoaffective disorder is typically poorly understood among mental health professionals and medical practitioners. The mixture of symptoms across different types of mental illness that present themselves uniquely from person to person makes this disorder a very hard one to define and diagnose.
Schizoaffective disorder appears in a very small percentage of the population – 0.3% and is experienced almost equally among women and men. Women only have a negligibly higher rate of occurrence than men (insert cite). Though, men typically experience a slightly earlier onset than women. The disorder typically surfaces in young adulthood and is first diagnosed through observation of individual behavior and the affected person’s reported experiences – for example, hallucinations, delusions, depression, hypomania. Reported cases of schizoaffective disorder in children is effectively non-existent or very, very rare. If you suffer from schizoaffective disorder, you might report seeing things, hearing voices, and also experience depression or hypomania. It’s the combination of these factors that points to a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. If you were only experiencing hallucinations, disorganized speech, or delusions – a mental health professional would consider a form of psychosis, usually schizophrenia, as the culprit. If you only experienced symptoms of depression or mania, or ups and downs of both – you are likely to be diagnosed with major depression or bipolar disorder alone.
Because of its debilitating conditions, if you are affected by schizoaffective disorder, it has likely negatively impacted your life. You could be having a hard time in school, staying in school, finding and keeping a job, and lead an overall lonely life. Because of this condition, you are more likely to heavily rely on your family members and friends for support, causing a strain in those relationships, or live in supportive environments, such as group homes. In many cases, people suffering from schizoaffective disorder who do not undergo or maintain treatment end up homeless.
What are the Symptoms?
There are a number of signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. As previously mentioned, if you are suffering from this disorder, you will experience both psychotic symptoms and mood disorder symptoms – either depressive or manic states. The psychotic symptoms in schizoaffective disorder remain even if you are no longer experiencing mood disorder symptoms at the time of occurrence and are reflective of your inability to determine what is real from what is imagined. The symptoms of individuals experiencing schizoaffective disorder may vary greatly between person to person and may come in more mild or more severe forms. Some of the common signs and symptoms, presented by mood and psychosis, are listed below.
If you have schizoaffective disorder, your symptoms may include:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Agitation, excessive restlessness
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness
- Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping much more or much less)
- Guilt or self-blame
- Inability to concentrate
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Feelings of constant sadness or fatigue
- Complaints of various physical symptoms
- Increased activity related to work, social engagements, and sexual activity
- Rapid and racing thoughts
- Increased talking and/or rapid talking
- Little need for sleep or rest
- Easily distracted
- Inflated self-esteem
- Engaging in self-destructive or dangerous behavior (for example, speeding and overall reckless driving, going on spending sprees, participating in unsafe sexual behaviors)
- Cheerfulness that rapidly turns to irritability
- Indiscreet sexual advances and poor financial investments, impulsive choices
- Paranoia and rage
- Hallucinations (perception of sensations that are not based in reality – for example, hearing voices or seeing things that do not actually exist)
- Delusions (strange beliefs, not based in reality, that the individual believes to be true even when presented with factual information that is based in reality)
- Disorganized thinking and speech (rapidly going from topic to topic – not following through on thoughts)
- Slow movements or immobility
- Odd or unusual behavior
- No motivation or poor motivation
- Lack of emotion in facial expressions and/or speech
- Overall problems with speech and communication
- Appearing apathetic
- Emotionally unresponsive
- Possess inappropriate emotional reactions
- Lack of concern with hygiene or grooming
- Paranoid thoughts and ideas
- Impaired occupational and social functioning
How is it Diagnosed and What Causes It?
If you think you might be suffering from schizoaffective disorder, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional. They can help assess your symptoms and thoughts and point you in the right direction for treatment and a better quality of life. If you a friend or family member of someone you think might be suffering from schizoaffective disorder, you cannot force them to go see a doctor, but you can and should encourage and support them in their time of need.
When going for treatment, your health care provider will perform a number of tests to gather information about your behavior and symptoms. You may undergo a variety of blood tests and brain imaging (e.g., MRI) to rule out other physical conditions. A psychiatrist may be brought in to confirm a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. By definition, to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, you must possess symptoms indicative of both psychosis and a mood disorder. Additionally, psychotic symptoms (e.g., hallucinations or delusions) must still be present during periods of a normal mood for at least two weeks. Because psychosis can present itself in a variety of mood disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder), it is necessary to continue to see psychotic symptoms during periods of normal mood for a correct diagnosis. If you are suffering from this condition, your mood disorder is likely present for the majority of the total duration of the illness. In addition, drug abuse and or different medications cannot be the cause of the symptoms. Some research that may help diagnose schizoaffective disorder in individuals include, the onset of illness in early adulthood, a person’s difficulty in visually following a moving object, and dreaming (rapid eye movement) that begins unusually early in the night.
You may be wondering why you are experiencing schizoaffective disorder. What caused it? Did you get it from your parents? Was it something you experienced that led to this disorder? A brain chemical malfunction? In all likelihood – it was caused by a combination of all of those factors. While the exact cause of schizoaffective disorder is unknown, genetics, brain chemistry and structure, stress, and drug use have been found to all be contributing factors. Genetically-speaking, schizoaffective disorder does run in families. This is not a certain factor that because a relative has it, you will also suffer from it. It just means that it increases your chances of suffering from this disorder. Brain structure and chemistry may also contribute to this disorder – but the research behind this is still in its infancy. Scientists are using brain scans to aggressively advance research in this area. Stressful life situations have been found to correlate with the onset of the disorder – things like a death in the family, job loss, or other tragic events may trigger symptoms. Certain psychoactive drugs, such as LSD, have also been linked to the development of schizoaffective disorder.
How is it Treated?
The two most common treatments for individuals suffering from schizoaffective disorder are medications and psychotherapy. If you have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, you are likely undergoing both types of treatment for the best possible effect on your well-being. Medications, including mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotic medications are usually prescribed for this disorder. The antipsychotic medications are used to treat the psychotic episodes experienced in schizoaffective disorder and the mood stabilizers and antidepressants are used to treat the mood disorder side of the condition.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy has shown to be very effective in the treatment of schizoaffective disorder as well. This type of therapy will help you create plans, solve problems, and maintain relationships. Group therapy sessions have been shown to help you if you are suffering from social isolation. The goals of psychotherapy including educating you about your illness and manage everyday problems that are associated with it. Skills training focuses on work and social skills related to grooming and hygiene and money and home management.
While there is no cure for schizoaffective disorder, you have a great chance of coping and operating with this disorder while undergoing medication and psychotherapy than individuals who do not seek treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment is key to reducing or avoiding frequent relapses or possible hospitalization related to the condition. In addition, treatment and diagnosis helps to restore family and social relationships and decrease the occurrence of disruption to your life, family, and relationships.