Health and Wellness

Is Schizoaffective Disorder a Serious Mental Illness?


What are the types of schizoaffective disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder features symptoms of schizophrenia and affective or mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental health condition.

Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental health condition. It features symptoms of schizophrenia and affective or mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder. It is a rare, chronic mental illness that affects 0.3% of the population. It can affect men and women equally, but men can get it at a younger age. 

Schizoaffective disorder can’t be cured completely. Doctors usually treat it as a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorders. It can be managed through treatment, but people may eventually relapse, necessitating additional treatment.

Based on the related mood disorder, there are two types of schizoaffective disorder:

  1. Bipolar disorder type. People with this type have mood changes with severe highs (mania) and lows (depression).
  2. Depressive type. People with this type have major depression. They feel sad, worthless, hopeless, and suicidal.

Schizophrenia vs. schizoaffective disorder

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that involves psychosis: i.e., an affected person can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination. A person with schizophrenia has hallucinations and delusions. They lose touch with the real world, get confused, and behave strangely. 

Both types of schizoaffective disorder show symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder is often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or a major depressive disorder.

Schizophrenia is diagnosed when psychotic symptoms consistently manifest throughout the illness. For diagnosis with a schizoaffective disorder, there has to be a fixed period of at least two weeks where only psychotic symptoms are seen without mood symptoms. 

Another difference is the medication used for their treatment. Both conditions rely on therapy, but the medications are different. Schizoaffective disorder is treated using a combination of antipsychotics and antidepressants to address symptoms of both schizophrenia and mood disorders. On the other hand, schizophrenia treatment involves only antipsychotics.

What are schizoaffective disorder symptoms?

Schizoaffective disorder symptoms can vary from person to person. Some may have mild symptoms, while some may have more severe symptoms. 

Psychotic symptoms include:

  • Delusions: strange beliefs that the person holds onto despite having contrary evidence
  • Hallucinations: seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t real
  • An inability to tell what’s real and what’s imagined
  • Unclear thinking
  • Communication problems and unclear speech with a lack of emotion 
  • Disorganized, odd, or unusual behavior
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Poor motivation
  • Slow movements or the inability to move

Depressive symptoms include:

Mania symptoms include:

  • Mania: sudden highs in energy levels
  • Agitation
  • Distraction
  • Talking too much or too fast
  • Increased activity
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Not sleeping much
  • Rapid, racing thoughts

What are schizoaffective disorder causes?

This disorder usually occurs between ages 16 and 30. It’s rarely seen in children. 

Doctors don’t know its exact cause, but if you have these risk factors, you may be prone to it:

  • Genetics. If your parents have genes associated with schizoaffective disorder, you may inherit it.
  • Brain structure. Changes in the size, structure, or development of different brain parts may cause schizoaffective disorder.
  • Drug use. Mind-altering drugs, also called psychoactive or psychotropic drugs, can lead to schizoaffective disorder. 
  • External factors. Factors like certain viral infections, extremely stressful conditions, or emotional trauma may trigger the disorder. 




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How is schizoaffective disorder diagnosed?

Schizoaffective disorder diagnosis is difficult. It is often confused with schizophrenia or mood disorders. There are no lab tests to diagnose this disorder. Doctors typically check your family history, medical history, and symptoms. They also check your answers to certain mental health questionnaires. 

They may use brain imaging tests like MRI, electroencephalography (EEG), or CT scans. They may also use blood tests to rule out other illnesses. 

If you’re sufficiently fit, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. They can diagnose mental illnesses by interviewing you. They may also use assessment tools to evaluate mood and psychotic disorders.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), you’ll be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder if you have:

  • Periods of continuous mental illness
  • Episodes of mania, major depression, or both coupled with symptoms of schizophrenia
  • At least two weeks of psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations or delusions, without mood-related problems
  • No proof of a drug-use problem or medicines that may cause symptoms

How is schizoaffective disorder treated?

There is no permanent cure for schizoaffective disorder. However, certain treatments can help manage the symptoms. 

Medication

Your doctor will prescribe antidepressant medicines or mood stabilizers based on the schizoaffective disorder type you have. They’ll also prescribe antipsychotic medicines to treat symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and unclear thinking. 

Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy involves counseling to help you learn about your illness, set goals, and manage symptoms. It aims to help you improve functionality and prevent relapse. Doctors usually conduct individual therapy with you. They also have family therapy to help your family understand your illness and be with you through it.

Self-management training

This is a type of counseling that focuses on managing and improving social skills, self-care, work, and other daily activities.

Hospitalization

A person with this disorder may experience a psychotic episode, be suicidal, or threaten to hurt others. In such cases, they may need hospitalization.

Electroconvulsive therapy

Doctors use electroconvulsive therapy as the last resort when people don’t respond to medications or psychotherapy. This involves passing an electric current through the brain, which may change your brain chemistry and treat some mental illnesses.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/30/2022

References

Sources:

Better Health Channel: “Schizoaffective disorder.”

NAMI: “Schizoaffective Disorder.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Schizophrenia.”

Royal College of Psychiatrists: “Schizoaffective Disorder.”

Wy, T.J.P., Saadabadi, A. StatPearls, “Schizoaffective Disorder,” StatPearls Publishing, 2021.



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