What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

To better understand what is schizoaffective disorder, first look at what the mental health disorder presents symptoms as. Schizoaffective disorder is characterized as having symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorder symptoms. It’s harder to diagnose because of the range of different symptoms and what’s the best plan of action to treat it. Usually, people diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder have a combination of psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations) and mood disorder symptoms (major depressive episodes and manic episodes). It doesn’t just affect the mind of the person but also has issues that can arise emotionally and socially. Since it’s such a complex mental health condition to diagnose, Moment of Clarity uses a more comprehensive approach to figure out the best treatment options for the patient diagnosed.

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Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can vary from one person to another. Some of the symptoms people can experience with schizoaffective disorder are psychosis (delusions and hallucinations) and mood disorder symptoms. The mood disorder symptoms show up as major depressive episodes, showing signs of sadness persistently, loss of interest in activities you once liked, changes in your appetite, and suicidal thoughts. On the opposite side, manic episodes will show symptoms of irritable mood, an increase in energy, reckless behavior, and rapid speech. Some other symptoms patients must exhibit to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder are: 

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech and thoughts
  • Having strange or unusual behavior
  • Depression symptoms, feeling empty and worthless
  • Manic mood with a ton of energy and less likely to go to sleep for several days
  • Having issues functioning at work or school or in social situations
  • Difficulties with personal care and not looking presentable and taking care of how you look

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Causes and Risk Factors

Although there hasn’t been concrete evidence and research on what causes schizoaffective disorder, the research that has been done has pointed to the family directly causing it to happen. Some of the causes that might be linked to schizoaffective disorder are the following: 

  • Genetics: There could be a genetic change that increases your risk amongst other genes for developing schizoaffective disorders. 
  • Brain chemicals: The neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in your brain, help the nerve cells in your brain communicate. Through studies, it’s been shown that abnormalities of neurotransmitters make your cells not communicate properly, which can lead to symptoms. 
  • Brain structure: When there are abnormalities in the size and structure of the hippocampus, thalamus, and white matter, it will produce negative symptoms.


The risk factors that can arise when developing a schizoaffective disorder are having a close relative who has schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, stressful events, and taking drugs that alter your mind. Someone with schizoaffective disorder has an increased risk of suicide, social isolation, arguments and conflicts with others, unemployment, anxiety disorders, alcohol misuse, heart disease, stroke, obesity, being poor, getting assaulted, and having aggressive behavior. You also could be at risk of triggering schizoaffective disorder symptoms if you have experienced extreme levels of stress or trauma and use recreational drugs, substances, or medications.

Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder

Although schizoaffective disorder is complicated to diagnose, it’s not impossible. It’s important to seek a diagnosis when not feeling the best mentally to rule out other mental health diagnoses. The diagnostic criteria mental health specialists look for are: 

  • Having interrupted periods of mental health symptoms that directly affect your mood (depression or mania) and have symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech) as well.
  • Hallucinations and delusions last two weeks or longer without having mood symptoms.
  • Symptoms that are affecting your mood are present during the majority of the time you’ve been having symptoms
  • There’s been no evidence or history of substance use disorder or medications that could be linked to the symptoms.

Treatment Options for Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder can be successfully treated when getting treatment of a combination of medications and psychotherapy. There are many different medications someone with schizoaffective disorder can be prescribed. It all depends on your body chemistry so the medications are not one size fits all for all the people diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. These types of medications depend on the type of symptoms you might be having with the disorder. The three types of common medication prescribed are: 

  • Antipsychotics: This type of medication treats symptoms related to schizophrenia, which are usually delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking. 
  • Mood stabilizers: This is used to treat and prevent mania. Usually, lithium and valproate are prescribed. 
  • Antidepressants: This is to prevent and treat depression. 


In conjunction with medications, people with schizoaffective disorder need to also receive psychotherapy. Psychotherapy has many benefits as part of the treatment plan. When someone goes through psychotherapy, which is a form of talk therapy, they can learn more about the schizoaffective disorder condition, formulate personal goals, and manage the everyday challenges of having schizoaffective disorder.

Living with Schizoaffective Disorder

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for people diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, but there is treatment to make the symptoms more manageable. It’s important to start getting on a treatment plan right away after being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. When someone is diagnosed with it, they need to have someone close to them to support them in the process of treatment. Living with schizoaffective disorder can be difficult to deal with without support from loved ones. It’s important to continue to attend therapy sessions, stay in contact with your medical care provider and mental health specialist, take your medications as prescribed, and treat any other health conditions you are dealing with.


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Myths and Misconceptions About Schizoaffective Disorder

With all the resources online at our fingertips, it can seem that anything online has accurate information about what is schizoaffective disorder. However, not everything you read online is true, so it’s important to be wary when reading about schizoaffective disorder. Some myths and misconceptions that might pop up when looking up more information about schizoaffective disorder are: 

  • Schizoaffective disorder is the same as the disorder schizophrenia: Although there are overlapping symptoms of the two, they aren’t the same but are related to each other. 
  • The schizoaffective disorder only has one type that people can be diagnosed with: There are two types of schizoaffective disorders. The two categories are bipolar and depressive. 
  • Trauma is the only factor that causes schizoaffective disorder:  There’s not enough research on how schizoaffective is caused. There’s a theory that it has to do with genetics, but it hasn’t been pinpointed exactly. 


How Moment of Clarity Can Help People with Schizoaffective Disorder

Moment of Clarity specializes in personalizing treatment for people diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. With the many different treatment options and types of therapies Moment of Clarity offers, patients will never feel they won’t have the right treatment for them when trying to manage their schizoaffective disorder symptoms. Once you are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, it’s important to get treatment right away and make a plan. Call Moment of Clarity today at 949-625-0564 to enroll in mental health treatment.

This article has been reviewed by:

Dr. Girgis serves as Moment of Clarity’s medical director and is a triple board-certified psychiatrist.

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