Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition that is characterized by a combination of symptoms related to schizophrenia (i.e., delusions or hallucinations) and mood disorder (i.e., mania or depression). Individuals diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder are more likely to have issues with unemployment, substance use disorders, isolation, health, suicidal ideations, and relationships. Those who do not get treatment or stop their treatment have a higher likelihood of committing suicide. Furthermore, having schizoaffective disorder increases one’s chances of having legal issues.
Treatment for the condition generally includes a combination of psychotropic medications and therapy. Often, life-skills training is essential in a treatment schedule. The diagnosis and treatment of schizoaffective disorder are often difficult, but individuals who attend therapy and follow their treatment plans are more likely to reduce their symptoms and improve their overall daily life.
Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder can include symptoms that are severe and require monitoring. The symptoms are dependent on the mood disorder that is diagnosed—bipolar disorder or depression. Here are some common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder:
- Depressed mood
- Manic behavior
- Disorganized thoughts
Depression may occur in individuals who are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder depressive type. Depressed mood is characterized by feelings of emptiness, sadness, worthlessness, and lethargy. In contrast, if an individual is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, they experience mania, which includes racing thoughts, feelings of euphoria, an increase in risky behavior, and agitation.
Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder
Unfortunately, there are no lab tests designed to specifically diagnose schizoaffective disorder. Medical professionals must rely on several factors to reach a correct diagnosis. An individual’s medical history is first taken, followed by blood tests. Sometimes, MRI scans are performed to rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms. If the physician does not find a physical cause for the symptoms, the patient is then referred to a psychiatrist who will then administer assessments and conduct interviews that are specifically designed for schizoaffective disorder.
It is often difficult to diagnose schizoaffective disorder due to the presence of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder (e.g., depression or bipolar disorder). Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed as either schizoaffective disorder bipolar type or schizoaffective disorder depressive type. To have a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, the following symptoms must be present:
- Hallucinations or delusions for at least two weeks without the presence of a major mood episode
- A period of time in which there is depression or mania that occurs during the same time period that the symptoms of schizophrenia are present
- Since the condition’s onset, patient has consistently experienced major mood symptoms
- Symptoms not due to the abuse of substances or a medication
What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder?
The precise cause of schizoaffective disorder has not been determined. There is a combination of factors that may contribute, including brain chemistry and structure, genetics, drug use, and stress. Brain structure and function in individuals with schizoaffective disorder may be different compared to other people. Genetics are also a contributing factor to the development of schizoaffective disorder. In other words, having a relative with the disorder means there is a greater chance of developing the illness.
Furthermore, LSD and other psychoactive drugs have been shown to impact and cause the onset of schizoaffective disorder. Stressful experiences or events like a divorce, death in the family, or losing employment can trigger the onset of schizoaffective disorder as well.
Treatment of Schizoaffective Disorder
The treatment of schizoaffective disorder may include medications, psychotherapy, and self-management strategies. Due to the chronic nature of schizoaffective disorder, long-term treatment is essential. Individuals with schizoaffective disorder may begin to feel better and cease taking their medications, but discontinuing their medication will cause the symptoms to eventually reemerge. It is crucial to continue to follow a treatment plan that was developed by a mental health professional. This will significantly increase the likelihood that symptoms will go into remission. It is also beneficial to attend therapy as well as a support group to prevent feelings of isolation.
An accurate diagnosis is required for therapy to be effective. If an individual with schizoaffective disorder is misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, the psychotic symptoms associated with schizophrenia will be treated, but the mood symptoms won’t be addressed. The symptoms of untreated mood disorders will continue to be detrimental to the well-being of the individual.
In general, mood symptoms like mania and depression are treated first in therapy. Mood symptoms are addressed first because mania and depression are more receptive to treatment when compared to symptoms of schizophrenia. Several types of therapy are effective for schizoaffective disorder. Individuals may try one-on-one counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and relationship counseling.
Individual counseling allows one to learn methods and coping skills that allow them to better deal with their diagnosis. During a one-on-one session, a mental health professional can guide the patient through difficulties with work, relationships, or school. Furthermore, a therapist can provide constant support regarding any issues that may arise related to the condition. The professional will also help the individual recognize triggers and create specific goals.
Cognitive behavioral therapy in an individual setting is an effective treatment for someone with schizoaffective disorder depressive type. This is because cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven as an empirically valid method of treating depression. There is also a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, CBTp, that can help individuals cope with psychotic symptoms that are not responsive to medications.
Group therapy provides individuals with a space to share their experiences, challenges, and victories regarding a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Group therapy also gives each patient time to engage with others in conversation and provides a support system that helps reduce feelings of isolation.
Since the condition is so often misunderstood, many family members do not know how they can offer support. Family therapy, or relationship counseling, is effective in allowing loved ones to gain knowledge regarding schizoaffective disorder.
Individuals with schizoaffective disorder may also find animal therapy or art therapy helpful as well. These are often peaceful avenues to help the patient find relief from their symptoms. In the case of animal-assisted therapy, a pet provides company or perhaps engages in activities with the patient. Art therapy incorporates forms of creative expression into the healing process.
Medications used in the treatment of schizoaffective disorder include antipsychotic medications, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers. Typically, a psychiatrist or other health professional will prescribe psychotropic medication to treat and reduce the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Due to the nature of the disorder, individuals may be prescribed more than one medication to treat both the mood disorder symptoms and the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Antipsychotics are typically prescribed to treat symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. Those diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type are typically prescribed lithium or another mood stabilizer. Individuals with schizoaffective disorder depressive type are generally prescribed an antidepressant. Another alternative medication that works for some is an atypical antipsychotic. These neuroleptic drugs act as an antipsychotic while providing relief from mood disorders. These medications allow individuals to take just one medication rather than two to treat symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.
The overall efficacy of atypical antipsychotics is still being determined, and it is unknown if they are ideal as a long-term medication for schizoaffective disorder. The Food and Drug Administration has approved only one medication, paliperidone, specifically for the treatment of schizoaffective disorder. This medication can be taken through injection or oral administration.
Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment option for individuals with schizoaffective disorder who have symptoms that do not respond to medication or psychotherapy. Electroconvulsive therapy is administered by sending an electric current through the brain. During the procedure, individuals are under general anesthesia. This treatment causes the individual to have a brief seizure that could theoretically change brain chemistry and reverse some conditions or bring symptoms into remission.
Life With Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic condition that primarily affects your psychological well-being. Due to the psychological impact, you may have difficulty taking care of basic needs as well as communicating with others. Individuals with schizoaffective disorder are recommended to have a self-care routine and maintain a crisis plan if they begin going through an episode. Have a support system of family, friends, and doctors. Having a support system can help individuals adhere to their crisis plan as well as their treatment plan.
It is also helpful to know what can trigger symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Several factors can trigger symptoms, and they differ for each person. Some factors include experiencing negative events, being busy, and being around stressful people. Furthermore, if an individual can recognize a manic episode, they might be able to prevent themselves from engaging in impulsive decisions and destructive behaviors. Having a regular routine can help individuals with schizoaffective disorder cope with their symptoms. This includes having an exercise routine, regular bedtime, and scheduled mealtimes.
It is also important for individuals to maintain relationships with loved ones. Individuals with schizoaffective disorder often experience feelings of isolation and suicidal thoughts. Having a connection and relationship with others can help maintain a stable mood and decrease feelings of isolation. It is important to remember that schizoaffective disorder does not have to be faced alone.
Getting Help for Schizoaffective Disorder
It may be difficult for individuals diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder to consistently perform daily life activities such as maintaining good hygiene, paying bills on time, and interacting with others in a social setting. This is why family-focused therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are so important. Life-skills education and training may allow individuals with schizoaffective disorder to learn effective ways to interact with others socially, communicate within the workplace and home, and maintain their overall basic needs.
If you or someone you know is dealing with schizoaffective disorder, it’s important to find the right mental health program. For those suffering from the condition, having access to helpful therapy and a medical support system could mean the difference between success and failure. Depending on the situation, and if substance use issues are present, inpatient residential treatment may be necessary.
The Granite Recovery Centers can help if you are dealing with symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. We’re located in New Hampshire, and we have an outstanding track record of helping individuals from all across the nation. Our dual diagnosis treatment facilities allow for treatment for addiction in conjunction with schizoaffective disorder. For us, it’s important to develop an individualized treatment plan for every patent. We stress that no two individuals receiving treatment are the same. With the right program and some hard work, people with schizoaffective disorder can overcome their symptoms.