Schizoaffective disorder is a complex mental illness that affects around half a million adults in the United States. A person suffering from schizoaffective disorder suffers from the symptoms of schizophrenia, in addition to symptoms of a mood disorder. For example, the individual will experience extended episodes of depression or mania that are not as a consequence of schizophrenia symptoms.
While it is a distressing mental illness and can be very frightening, it is treatable. With appropriate treatment, you can live a meaningful, satisfying life.
What is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder is somewhat difficult to define, as it presents almost as two co-occurring disorders. In other words, someone with schizoaffective disorder seems to be struggling from both schizophrenia and a mood disorder at the same time. They have periods in which they suffer from psychotic episodes, as well as periods in which they suffer from depressive or manic episodes.
Professionals may have trouble diagnosing schizoaffective disorder, as many of the symptoms of schizophrenia resemble symptoms of mood disorders. For example, delusions of grandeur, agitation, feelings of elation, and more, are all symptoms of both schizophrenia and mania. Furthermore, negative symptoms of schizophrenia, such as flat affect, anhedonia (difficulty experiencing pleasure), and low motivation, are all symptoms of depression as well.
Therefore, for someone to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, they must exhibit indications of a mood disorder most of the time, rather than just occasional symptoms.
The DSM-V lays out far more specific criteria for diagnosing schizoaffective disorder than previous manuals. It requires that a person meets the primary criteria for schizophrenia, which includes two or more of the following:
- disorganized speech
- disorganized or catatonic behavior
- negative symptoms
- flat expressions
- loss of pleasure/anhedonia
- lack of motivation/avolition
In addition, someone with schizoaffective meets the following criteria:
- major depression or mania, lasting for an uninterrupted period of time
- delusions or hallucinations (psychotic symptoms) for two or more consecutive weeks without mood symptoms
- mood symptoms present for the majority of the illness
- evidence that the mood symptoms are not caused by substance abuse
How we treat Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is treated using a combination of medication and therapy, as well as interventions to help the patient manage their lives with the illness effectively. While it is a chronic and severe condition, it can be treated, and hundreds of thousands of people live with the illness successfully.
Hospitalization is usually the primary step, giving individuals the chance to adapt to medications and stabilize without having to deal with everyday responsibilities.
The only medication particularly approved by the FDA for schizoaffective disorder is the antipsychotic paliperidone, traded under the name Invega. Doctors may also prescribe other antipsychotic drugs used for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These medications reduce the psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.
Since the individual is also suffering from the symptoms of a mood disorder, they may be prescribed medications used for bipolar disorder and depression. If the individual is experiencing bipolar type schizoaffective disorder, providers may prescribe mood stabilizers. When the individual is experiencing depression type schizoaffective disorder, they may be prescribed antidepressants.
Talk therapy is also crucial to the recovery process. Individual therapy is the first port of call, giving patients the chance to challenge thought patterns, learn emotion regulation, and learn to manage their symptoms. They may also focus on day-to-day issues, in addition to finding meaning and other existential challenges. Furthermore, occupational therapy can help the person learn how to navigate occupational challenges while managing their illness.
Family therapy is helpful, as it gives the family time to heal together with the patient, as well as helping them understand how best to support their loved one.
Finally, group therapy can be very useful, as the individual learns that they are not alone, and learn to better regulate and manage social settings.
The more healthy a person is in a holistic physical sense, the better they will be able to manage their illness. Lifestyle modifications, including improved nutrition and daily physical exercise, can contribute to a balanced, healthy life.
At Gooden Wellness Center, we expect the best possible outcomes for patients with schizoaffective disorder. While complex, it is an illness that can be treated and managed through an effective combination of medication and therapy. Hospitalization is the first port of call, but after care and continued upkeep is incredibly important.
Schizoaffective disorder is very distressing for the individual and their loved ones, but at Gooden Treatment Center, we provide patients with the best possible outcomes. Contact Gooden Treatment Center today to begin your journey towards mental health.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): (Website)
- Parker, G. (2019). How Well Does the DSM-5 Capture Schizoaffective Disorder?. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, p.070674371985684
- Cascade, E., Kalali, A. H., & Buckley, P. (). Treatment of schizoaffective disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 6(3), 15–17.
- Canuso, C., Lindenmayer, J., Kosik-Gonzalez, C., Turkoz, I., Carothers, J., Bossie, C. and Schooler, N. (2010). A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of 2 Dose Ranges of Paliperidone Extended-Release in the Treatment of Subjects With Schizoaffective Disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 71(05), pp.587-598.
- Lewandowski, K., Eack, S., Hogarty, S., Greenwald, D. and Keshavan, M. (2011). Is cognitive enhancement therapy equally effective for patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder?. Schizophrenia Research, 125(2-3), pp.291-294.