What A Life Can Be: One Therapists Take on Schizo-Affective Disorder

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Schizoaffective disorder is characterized by persistent symptoms of psychosis resembling schizophrenia with additional periodic symptoms of mood or affective disorders. Schizoaffective Disorder is often confused with Bipolar Disorder with psychotic features.

What causes schizoaffective disorder?

Both diagnosis include mood changes that impact life as well as symptoms of psychosis. A person diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder primarily experiences symptoms of psychosis even if mood problems don't exist. However, when mood problems flare up, such as during a depressed or manic episode, the symptoms of psychosis can worsen. Someone who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder with psychotic features often only experiences psychosis during a mood swing.

This distinction is not always as obvious as the description suggests. Emotion and behavior are more fluid and less easy to classify than physical symptoms.

My Struggle with Schizoaffective Disorder

If you're not sure about your diagnosis, it's a great question to bring up with your therapist, doctor or support person. A mental health professional can help provide education and clarify issues to make sure you understand your options including treatment.


If a person is experiencing psychosis, a neuroleptic antipsychotic drug is most often used, since antidepressants and lithium used for bipolar disorder take several weeks to start working. Antipsychotic medications should help resolve symptoms quickly, sometimes as quickly as days.

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Long term use of older antipsychotic drugs have been known to cause tardive dyskinesia, a serious and sometimes irreversible disorder of body movement. After symptoms of psychosis improve, mood symptoms may be treated with antidepressants, lithium, anticonvulsants, or electroconvulsive therapy ECT. Sometimes a neuroleptic is combined with lithium or an antidepressant and then gradually withdrawn, to be restored if necessary. The few studies on drug treatment of this disorder suggest that antipsychotic drugs are most effective.

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Symptoms The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can be severe and need to be monitored closely. Disorganized thinking.


Schizoaffective disorder

A person may switch very quickly from one topic to another or provide answers that are completely unrelated. Depressed mood. If a person has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder depressive type they will experience feelings of sadness, emptiness, feelings of worthlessness or other symptoms of depression.

Manic behavior. Causes The exact cause of schizoaffective disorder is unknown. Schizoaffective disorder tends to run in families. This does not mean that if a relative has an illness, you will absolutely get it. But it does mean that there is a greater chance of you developing the illness.

Psychosis (Schizophrenia) in Children and Youth | Mental Health America

Brain chemistry and structure. Brain function and structure may be different in ways that science is only beginning to understand. Brain scans are helping to advance research in this area. Stressful events such as a death in the family, end of a marriage or loss of a job can trigger symptoms or an onset of the illness. Drug use. Psychoactive drugs such as LSD have been linked to the development of schizoaffective disorder.

Diagnosis Schizoaffective disorder can be difficult to diagnose because it has symptoms of both schizophrenia and either depression or bipolar disorder. A period during which there is a major mood disorder, either depression or mania, that occurs at the same time that symptoms of schizophrenia are present. Delusions or hallucinations for two or more weeks in the absence of a major mood episode. Symptoms that meet criteria for a major mood episode are present for the majority of the total duration of the illness.