Types of Schizoaffective Disorder and Treatment Strategies
Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health illness that affects thoughts, emotions, and actions. Those with schizoaffective disorder often experience both psychotic episodes and mood instability. As a result, the symptoms are often mistakenly diagnosed as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. An accurate diagnosis relies on medical professionals that have experience and a deep understanding of this disorder.
Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder
A person with schizoaffective disorder may experience delusions and/or hallucinations as well as depression and mania (euphoria, disorganized thoughts etc.). Women and men experience schizoaffective disorder at the same rate – less than a half of one percent lifetime prevalence. Men usually develop the condition at an earlier age than women.1
Due to the overlap in symptoms with other major mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more, it is important that other disorders are ruled out before a definitive diagnosis can be made.
What causes schizoaffective disorder?
Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of data on the causes schizoaffective disorder. Part of this is due to the fact that there are several factors that may alone, or in tandem, cause schizoaffective disorder, and also because schizoaffective disorder is so rare it is difficult to conduct large scale trials. From what we know, there are four main factors in the development of schizoaffective disorder. These include:
- People with schizoaffective disorder may have family members who have been diagnosed with any of these conditions.2
- Significant stresses in one’s life
- Chemical imbalance of serotonin or dopamine3
- Congenital factors
Forms of Schizoaffective Disorder
There are three major types of schizoaffective disorder:
1.) Bipolar or Mixed Type Schizoaffective disorder
In this type, people present both psychotic and mood symptoms in one episode. During this period there is evidence of a major mood disorder, either depression or mania. Bipolar type schizoaffective disorder symptoms may include:
- Feeling constantly sad and fatigued
- Recurrent thoughts of suicide
- Hearing or seeing things
- Sudden changes in speech
2.) Depressive Type Schizoaffective Disorder
In this type, people show symptoms of psychosis and depression at the same time when experiencing an episode. Depression goes far beyond being sad. Most people lose their motivation, concentration, and see noticeable changes in their sleep and eating patterns. Those who suffer from a depression type schizoaffective disorder often notice:
- Agitation (being very restless)
- Inability to concentrate
- Inappropriate emotional reactions
- Bizarre thinking
- Confusing thoughts
3.) Manic Type Schizoaffective disorder
In this type, people suffer from symptoms of psychosis and mania at the same time. Most people affected by this disorder often feel ‘high’ since they have a sense of extreme physical and mental well-being, excessive energy, and elation of mood. A manic type schizoaffective disorder person may be:
- Compulsively talkative
- Extremely agitated
- Susceptible to buying sprees
- Experiencing drastic mood changes
- Suffering from sleeplessness
Treatment options for Schizoaffective Disorder
Early and intensive treatment for schizoaffective disorder is important to minimize the risk to the sufferer as well as improve potential outcomes of treatment. Typically, patients will begin a regimen of medications under the care of a psychiatrist to stabilize and begin further care. Antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers may be used separately or in conjunction to treat symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. It is important to remember that medication is not curative, and rather the focus is on alleviating symptoms and balancing mood.
Once the patient has been stabilized on medication, psychotherapy, self-care, and peer support are all effective strategies to improve the patient’s state of mind, create coping strategies, and live a fuller and richer life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an important part of the therapeutic process. Specialized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for psychosis can also be employed effectively.
Oftentimes, conditions such as Schizoaffective Disorder occur concurrently with substance abuse. Specialized treatment centers such as Destination Hope will provide care for both conditions, which require higher level treatment protocols and uniquely trained and experienced clinical staff.
While many alternative treatments have not been scientifically proven, certain non-medical treatments have shown to have a powerful impact on improving an individual’s state of mind. Clients with schizoaffective disorder will work with our Wellness Center team here at Destination Hope to participate in yoga, massage, and acupuncture. Our neurohealth center will also work with the client using various sensory stimulation therapies.
Those with schizoaffective disorder, and even related disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, will need to stay on their medication. Consistent medication compliance, however, especially during manic episodes where clients’ feelings of euphoria lead them to feel like they may be cured, is an ongoing struggle with clients experiencing this disorder. Understandably, this is a very frustrating and upsetting time for those who love them and there is a deep sense of powerlessness in friends and family. It is for these times that we stress having a support system available – this can be in the form of clinical help or strategies to minimize potential safety issues.
Keeping yourselves and others safe
Between schizoaffective episodes, the sufferer will often be lucid and able to express themselves properly. This is a good time to sit down and discuss the triggers of their disorder. It may be helpful to bring other friends and family members who spend time with the sufferer into the process to understand more about the disorder and know when a schizoaffective episode may be occurring, or on the way. Together, you may wish to create an action and crisis plan which outlines the steps to minimize the effects of the episode and engage treatment resources as soon as possible. Of course, in any emergency, dialing 911 immediately is critical.
Support and next steps
If you or a loved one struggle with schizoaffective disorder, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone, nor should you be. Families of those affected by schizoaffective disorders should not only seek care for their loved ones, but also for themselves. Mental illness in general, and schizoaffective disorder in particular, can be taxing both on the family relationships and on individuals who care about the sufferer. There are mental health help lines, organizations dedicated to the support of suffers and loved ones, and treatment facilities such as Destination Hope that all play a role in the management of symptoms associated with this insidious disease.
The first step towards healing is getting help. We encourage you to call us at or contact us by clicking here.
This article was originally published on 6/27/2017 and updated on 1/16/2020