Definition: Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that involves a combination of schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms.
There are two types of schizoaffective disorder; schizoaffective bipolar type and schizoaffective depressive type. Symptoms will differ slightly for each person, and each person’s experiences will be unique to them. It’s estimated that about 3 in 1000 people have this condition and it typically manifests during early adulthood but can occur at an earlier or later age.
Schizoaffective disorder involves periods of mood disorder symptoms, e.g. manic or depressive episodes, separate episodes of psychosis with no mood symptoms, and periods of both mood and psychosis symptoms.
With schizoaffective bipolar type, an individual may experience periods of mania and depression, but with the depressive type, an individual will only experience depressive mood symptoms without mania. In saying this, there can also be periods of balance.
- Manic symptoms:
- Agitation and irritability
- Easily distracted
- Impulsivity and/or risk-taking behaviors
- Inflated sense of self
- Not sleeping much if at all
- Racing thoughts
- Rapid/fast talking
- Depressive symptoms:
- Difficulty sleeping or too much sleep
- Feelings of despair and/or guilt
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Poor appetite
- Disrupted thought patterns and speech
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling confused or frightened
- Feelings of disconnection from your emotions
Someone with schizoaffective may experience all or some of the above symptoms. As mentioned, each person’s experience will be unique to them. It’s important to note that schizoaffective disorder can often be a lifelong illness, however, that doesn’t mean an individual with it can’t live the life they want to. People can and do live full, fulfilling lives with schizoaffective disorder. Symptoms may not ever fully disappear, but through treatment, they can become more manageable.
As with any health condition, treatment can vary from person to person. What’s helpful for one may not be helpful for another, however, there are some treatments available that can and do help those struggling with schizoaffective disorder. Treatments include:
- Medications: Doctors may prescribe a combination of antidepressants, mood stabilizers and/or antipsychotic medications. There is also a medication that has been approved for schizoaffective disorder. Recent research has also shown promise with a new medication for those with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia.
- Psychotherapy: In many individuals with schizoaffective disorder, psychotherapy can help hugely in managing moods, lessen symptoms, connect thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and help find ways of coping with day-to-day life. Therapies such as talk therapy, family or group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), art therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and psychodynamic therapy have been found to help those with schizoaffective disorder. In some cases, those with schizoaffective disorder have found electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to be beneficial. While there has been a lot of stigma surrounding this specific type of treatment, modern medicine has allowed it to be a safe and effective treatment for many health conditions.
- Rehabilitation and supportive employment: There are some programs that work to provide those with schizoaffective disorder, and other mental health conditions, to prepare for, find and keep jobs. They may also help in supporting someone with their day-to-day lives and helping with independence.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one experiencing schizoaffective disorder, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, simply having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. There are some ways you can support a loved one, but also remember that you are a friend, family member, partner, etc and not a professional. You can’t expect yourself to be everything for everyone.
Ways to support a loved one include:
- Asking if, when they’re experiencing a hallucination, what would be most helpful, e.g. if they’d like to deal with it in their own way or if it would be good for you to distract them and help them become a bit more grounded in reality.
- If they’re experiencing a mood-related symptom, what would be the best way to support them during this time? Maybe offering to help with a chore, groceries, etc. Even working on a well-being plan with your loved one can be helpful.
- Don’t dismiss their feelings, thoughts or experiences. It’s valid to not always know what to say, but don’t invalidate their experience.
- Stay in contact. Sometimes, if someone with schizoaffective disorder is having a tough time, they may withdraw and isolate themselves. Staying in contact reminds your loved one that you’re there for them.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
Schizoaffective disorder is a complex condition, but it’s important for those struggling to know that it can be managed. You can find ways to cope with it and live with it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you are deserving of the help, care, and support you need. Schizoaffective disorder can be managed and you can live the life you want and deserve. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.
Resources and links:
- SchizoKitzo YouTube Channel
- Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand - Schizoaffective Disorder
- Mind UK - Schizoaffective Disorder: Information for Friends and Family
- Mind UK - Schizoaffective Disorder: Treatment
- The Mighty - Schizoaffective Disorder
- Living Well with Schizophrenia
- Hearing Voices Network New Zealand
- Talking Minds
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves, please contact your local emergency services.