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Schizoaffective Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness characterized by a person having both a thought disorder and a mood disorder. The thought disorder has symptoms characteristic of schizophrenia, such as delusions and hallucinations. The mood disorder can be either bipolar or depression. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychotic symptoms must be present for at least two weeks without the presence of mood symptoms. Onset usually occurs in late teens or early adulthood.

This disorder is a debilitating illness that can affect a person’s ability to work, his or her social interactions, and the overall quality of that person’s life. It can significantly decrease a person’s ability to function in the world at the level that he or she functioned before getting sick.

Schizoaffective disorder is a life-long illness (for most people) with no known cure and therefore the prognosis is not great, though it is slightly better than that of schizophrenia.

There is no known cure for schizoaffective disorder, although it can be managed with medication and psychotherapy. The illness can be managed, with symptoms being minimized and a person’s functioning being improved.

How a person deals with schizoaffective disorder depends on the individual, his or her ability to cope, the available resources, and many other factors. If you or a family member is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder do not despair, there is hope. Your outlook will play a role in your or your loved one’s ability to heal.

Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may look different to every person suffering from the illness. It has a wide range of severity and actual symptoms. No matter where you are on the spectrum it is important that at the first signs of any of these symptoms you seek medical help from a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. Help is available and you do not have to suffer alone with schizoaffective illness.

The depression part of the illness may look like this:
  • Sadness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase of appetite
  • Loss of motivation
  • Withdrawn from loved ones
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Hopelessness
  • Weight gain or loss
The bipolar part of the illness may look like this:
  • Racing thoughts
  • Overactive actions (overly hyper)
  • Fast speech
  • Weeks of no or little sleep
  • The feeling of being on top of the world
  • Odd or unusual behavior for the person
  • Spending sprees
  • Thoughts of having supernatural abilities
  • Cycles of depression and mania
  • Harmful behavior to self or others
The schizophrenia part of the illness may look like this:
  • Hearing voices in your head, sounds, music
  • Seeing things that are not there including but not limited to objects, animals, distortions of people places or things, shadows
  • Delusional thinking
  • Bizarre behavior for the person
  • Thought disorders
  • Movement disorders
  • Trouble concentrating

What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is suspected to be caused by genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors, though no one knows what causes it. Having a family member with a mental illness can increase a person’s genetic predisposition to having the disorder. Biochemical imbalances in a person’s brain chemistry are also a factor. Environmental factors such as highly stressful situations, lack of social interactions, and drug use may also contribute to getting the illness.

Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment

There is a wide range of treatments available for schizoaffective disorder and not one is the best for all who suffer from the illness. Many times a combination of treatments is needed for optimum results. Trial and error most likely will be the case in the process of finding the right treatment for schizoaffective. Patience and diligence is the key to arriving at the right treatment for you.


Medications are used to lessen the severity of the symptoms and even sometimes rid you of them for good. Sometimes combinations of medications are used to treat this illness. The common medications used are; anti-depression medication, anti-anxiety medication, anti-psychotic medication, and mood stabilizers.

There is a variety of each medicine and like any other treatment, it may take a few different times of trying different medications to find the right combination. Don't get discouraged because when you do find the right combination you'll forget all the time it took to get it right.


Talk therapy is a great way to find out what is beneath the surface and if there are any underlying causes of your mental illness; it also just gets things off your chest and releases any bottled-up emotions and pressure.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to teach you how to cope with your symptoms such as anxiety and depression and replace negative thoughts with correct ways of thinking. The therapist will also teach you different coping skills based on your diagnosis and symptoms.


Sometimes it becomes necessary to admit the sufferer to a psychiatric hospital. It may sound scary but in reality, it is a safe place where you can be monitored and medications can be tried, and you can have time to come back to reality from a bad episode.

Sometimes loved ones cannot watch over you when you are a harm to yourself or you are scared for your safety; so going to a hospital may be the best option. If you feel that you are ever going to harm yourself or others please contact 911 or tell your closest friend or family member so that they can get you the help you need.


The subject of self-help is something that should be done in conjunction with other treatment options. By itself, it will not fully help your symptoms. But together with medication and/or therapy it can lessen your symptoms and give you a sense of hope.

Self-help options can be support groups, reading books or articles, or listening to TV specials. Education about your illness is also another great form of self-help and is highly recommended.

Try a combination of these treatments for schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective is not an illness that is easy to cope with but with the right treatment, support, and coping skills you can get through one day to the next without feeling like you did the first day of diagnosis.

What To Do if a Family Member has Schizoaffective Disorder

If a family member of yours has schizoaffective disorder, the best thing you can do is try to be understanding and supportive. Your loved one is going through a difficult time and is most likely trying his or her best.

Educate yourself about the illness, talk to others who have gone through a similar situation, and talk to your loved one. Ask how you can help, what he or she needs, or just lend an open ear.

Having healthy relationships is invaluable for a person with schizoaffective disorder. Family is very important and the person’s illness will most likely put strain on your family. Just remember that it is not the person’s fault that he or she is sick. No one is to blame.

Support your family member in the decision to stay on medication, utilize state and government resources that are available, and get active in ways that will improve his or her functioning. But remember, you are one of the most important resources that your loved one has.

Your personal growth will likely be challenged as you expand your patience and understanding. Your growth will help your family member with schizoaffective disorder, as he or she is growing and healing.


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