Schizoaffective Disorders: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

Many people are familiar with schizophrenia, a mental health condition that causes hallucinations and delusions, but few people are aware of schizoaffective disorder, a condition marked by symptoms of both schizophrenia and mood disorders.

At Port St. Lucie Hospital, we offer treatment programs for a variety of mental health conditions. However, it can be difficult to seek help for a mental illness if you’re unsure about what, exactly, you should be seeking help for. Read on to learn more about schizoaffective disorder, its symptoms, and what treatment options exist.

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

schizophrenia symptoms

Schizoaffective disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) as “an uninterrupted period of illness during which, at some time, there is either a Major Depressive Episode, a Manic Episode, or a Mixed Episode with symptoms of Schizophrenia.” 

The term “schizoaffective” comes from the combination of schizophrenia and affective disorders, also known as mood disorders. Affective disorders are mental health conditions that heavily affect a person’s mood and feelings.

The two primary affective disorders are bipolar disorder and depressive disorder. Similarly,  there are two types of schizoaffective disorders: “bipolar type” schizoaffective disorder and “depressive type.”

In bipolar type schizoaffective disorder, people experience a combination of symptoms from both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Typically, this means that people experience both depressive and manic episodes alongside their schizophrenia symptoms.

With depressive type, individuals suffer from the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia as well as the depressed moods that come with major depressive disorder. Those living with depressive type schizoaffective disorder do not experience highs and lows, but instead experience long periods of intense depression.

People living with schizoaffective disorder will typically experience major mood episodes (either bipolar or depressive, depending on their type) for periods of days or weeks before they subside. However, the symptoms of schizophrenia generally persist even after these episodes subside.

In order to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, you must experience these feelings for a period of several months. But how do you know if you’re experiencing a major mood episode or signs of schizophrenia? Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms that lead to a schizoaffective diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

As we established earlier, schizoaffective disorders can typically be divided into two types. But what exactly distinguishes “bipolar” symptoms from “depressive” symptoms? And what are the symptoms of schizophrenia that appear alongside it? Keep reading for an in-depth look at the signs and behaviors that point to schizoaffective disorder.

Bipolar Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Bipolar type schizoaffective disorder often mimics those of bipolar disorder, with the same uncontrollable emotional highs (manic episodes and lows) and lows (depressive episodes). The common, everyday symptoms of bipolar type normally include:

  • Increased energy, to the point you may feel like you don’t need sleep
  • Euphoria that may or may not match your circumstances
  • Engaging in risky, unsafe behaviors because you feel invulnerable
  • A break from reality, wherein you believe or sense things that are not real
  • Constant tiredness that does not go away with sleep
  • Feelings of sadness or misery

These symptoms typically last for a period of weeks before rapidly shifting to feelings on the opposite end of the emotional spectrumfor example, going from a euphoric mood to being depressed inside of a few days. 

Depressive Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Unlike bipolar type, depressive type schizoaffective disorder does not present with episodes of mania. For this reason, the “depressive” part of these symptoms tend to look similar to major depressive disorder. Depressive symptoms include:

  • Feelings of lethargy or not wanting to do anything
  • No longer deriving pleasure from your favorite activities
  • Inability to sleep, or sleeping excessively
  • Loss of appetite
  • A feeling that you will never be happy again

Similar to major depressive disorder, these feelings can be near-constant or they can appear and recede in periods of a few weeks, only to come back again. However, what distinguishes depressive type schizoaffective disorder from major depressive disorder is the appearance of schizophrenia symptoms. 

Schizophrenia Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

The appearance of psychotic symptoms is what distinguishes schizoaffective disorder from the affective disorders mentioned above. While bipolar and depressive symptoms may come and go over time, these psychotic symptoms are near-constant for those with schizoaffective disorder. They include:

  • False beliefs called delusions, e.g. that your friends secretly hate you or that your parents want to kill you
  • Hallucinations, or seeing/hearing/feeling things that are not there
  • Difficulty holding work or staying enrolled in school
  • Problems with personal hygiene or taking care of yourself
  • Difficulty communicating with people; not being understood by those around you

If you’re positive that you’re experiencing bipolar or depressive symptoms, and wondering whether you might have schizoaffective disorder, recognizing these symptoms may help you determine what mental health condition you are facing.

However, keep in mind that any diagnosis is a complex process and should be left to mental health professionals. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be dealing with a mental health disorder, you should seek professional mental health treatment immediately. If left untreated, schizoaffective disorder and other affective or psychotic disorders can worsen, endangering your physical and mental health.

What Treatments Can Help?

schizoffective disorder

As a psychotic disorder, schizoaffective disorder requires rigorous treatment from mental health professionals. At Port St. Lucie Hospital, our team of mental health experts employs a variety of evidence-based therapeutic strategies to treat mental health disorders like this.

We combine clinically-proven treatments with counseling and therapy sessions customized to every individual’s long-term recovery. Here a few of the ways in which we help treat schizoaffective disorder:

  • Prescription medications: People with schizoaffective disorder are often treated with a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Typically, a combination of one or more antipsychotic, mood stabilizing, or antidepressant drugs are prescribed to help combat your individual mix of symptoms.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of a therapy that focuses on helping people recognize, understand, and change behaviors that they’re not entirely aware of. Through one-on-one sessions with a mental health professional, you will learn new, constructive thought patterns that can mitigate some symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Though medications can help make symptoms weaker, CBT is an important step towards long-term recovery and control of your mental health.
  • Group therapy sessions: People dealing with mental health conditions often feel completely alone, or as if nobody else could understand what they’re going through. This can cause them to lose hope, or feel as if they’ll never be able to recover. To help combat these feelings, we provide group therapy sessions in supportive environments where those dealing with mental health issues can meet and share their experiences.

Start Your Recovery Today

If you think that you or a loved one are living with schizoaffective disorder, the best time to seek help is right now. Our team of healthcare professionals are dedicated to helping you find the treatment plan that’s right for your situation.

Whether that’s mental health treatment, a dual diagnosis mental health and substance abuse treatment plan, or a partial hospitalization plan, we provide all the tools you need to take control of your mental health. From support groups to individual therapy treatment options, we are here to fight the battle with you.

If you have any questions about our mental health care, you can reach our admissions specialists at (772) 238-7734 or fill out our confidential contact form.

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