Schizoaffective Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder (SZD) is a mental health condition that affects a person’s mood and perception of reality. People who suffer from SZD face many challenges. This is because they will experience symptoms of psychosis, bipolar disorder, and depression. 

SZD affects the way a person thinks, feels, acts, and interprets reality. An affected person will struggle to express how they feel. They may also struggle to understand what is happening around them during episodes.

People with this condition will struggle on a chronic basis. They will struggle with mood fluctuations. This will affect how they think and behave in reaction to situations. Because of their condition, other areas of their life will be affected. 

Such areas include:

  • Relationships
  • Academic performance
  • Career and job performance
  • Social interactions

SZD can be difficult to identify. It can manifest through symptoms that are similar to different conditions. Because of this, misdiagnosis is common. Identifying symptoms can be challenging. Despite the challenge, it is critical for the proper diagnosis of this condition.

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Symptoms of SZD will occur in reaction to mood dysregulation and psychosis. Because of this, symptoms often mirror the following conditions:

Brief Psychotic Disorder

A disorder that causes a person to lose touch with reality. Symptoms of brief psychotic disorder that are present in SZD include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusional thinking
  • False beliefs
  • Developing conspiracy theories
  • Impaired speech
  • Unusual or impulsive behavior
  • Inconsistent appearance and hygiene care


Depression causes a person to have a low mood. People who are depressed may feel sad, hopeless, or numb. Symptoms of depression that are present in SZD include:

  • Episodes of depressed mood
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, or unloveable
  • Feeling empty, or struggling to feel emotions
  • An extreme or consistent feeling of sadness or despair
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Irritability

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder causes a person to feel mood changes between mania and depression. 

Mania is a condition in which a person feels an increase in energy. A manic mood can cause:

  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Setting unattainable personal goals
  • Lack of sleep
  • Grandiose thoughts
  • Impulsive behavior

Causes Of Schizoaffective Disorder

A person will begin to show signs of SZD between their teens and early 30’s. It is not common for children under 15 years old to show signs of this condition. SZD can be misdiagnosed as psychosis or schizophrenia. It can also be misdiagnosed for depression or bipolar disorder. While there is no clear cause of SZD, a combination of factors can place a person at higher risk of developing the condition. The following are factors that may cause SZD: 

Family History

SZD can run in families. A person who has a close family member with SZD is at increased risk of developing the condition. This is due to a genetic link to the condition. A person may inherit SZD, even if their parents do not have the condition themselves. 

Brain Chemistry

People who suffer from SZD tend to have differences in brain chemistry compared to others. Dopamine levels in the brains of SZD patients tend to be lower than those who do not have the condition. This chemical difference may be influenced by drug use. People who use recreational drugs are at increased risk of SZD.

Environmental Factors

The environment can influence the chances of a person developing SZD. People who grow up in abusive, chaotic, or neglectful environments are at increased risk of developing the condition. Trauma, intense stress, and emotional instability can also influence a person’s chances of suffering from SZD.

Treatment For Schizoaffective Disorder

Treatment of SZD can be challenging. The first and most critical component of treatment is proper diagnosis. SZD is often misdiagnosed. Without the correct diagnosis affected people are often mistreated. Even with a proper diagnosis, people with SZD can be resistant to treatment. Despite the challenges, with the right motivation, a person can learn how to manage symptoms of SZD.

To treat SZD, a person will need to consult with a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications that will help the affected person. Antipsychotic medication is typically prescribed to people who are suffering from SZD. This medication helps to reduce psychotic symptoms. An affected person may also be prescribed an antidepressant or mood-stabilizing medication.

Along with medication, therapy will be needed. Therapy can teach an affected person about their condition. Through therapy, a person can learn how to manage their symptoms and properly take their medication. Therapy can also help by addressing life stressors that trigger symptoms. Therapy teaches coping skills for mood swings, along with social and stress management skills.

In extreme cases, an affected person may need to be hospitalized. Hospitalization ensures proper care in a secure environment. While SZD is typically treated on an outpatient basis, severe cases may need to be hospitalized until stabilized. Those who are in danger of hurting themselves or others will likely undergo a period of hospitalization while being treated.

Link To This Condition

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