Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

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Schizoaffective disorder is a serious type of mental illness that negatively impacts a person’s thinking, emotions, perception of reality, and interactions with others.

Schizoaffective disorder involves psychotic symptoms as well as a mood disorder. Psychotic symptoms are hallucinations, delusions, or disorganized thinking. The mood disorder symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can either be of a depressive type or a bipolar type.

When a person has schizoaffective disorder, it’s generally considered a chronic (long-term) illness that can have a major impact on all aspects of one’s life, including work, school, relationships, and more. Although there is no cure for schizoaffective disorder, with treatment—such as medications— the symptoms can be controlled. 

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Frequent Symptoms

The most common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include major mood episodes, coupled with ongoing psychotic symptoms, such as:

  • Hallucinations: Seeing things or hearing voices that are not real.
  • Delusions: False beliefs which are maintained regardless of evidence to the contrary.
  • Paranoia: A type of delusion involving thoughts of persecutions by a person, persons, or an entity such as the government.
  • Disorganized thinking: Odd speech, strange actions, or trouble controlling emotions.

Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may manifest differently in each person diagnosed with the illness. The severity of symptoms is usually seen on a continuum from mild to severe.

Considering the different types of schizoaffective disorder, and the fact that a person may not have every symptom of each type of manifestation, here is a breakdown of possible symptoms:

Depressive Type Symptoms

Depressive symptoms may include:

  • Low energy levels or agitation
  • An extremely sad or low mood
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or remembering things
  • Appetite problems (either an increase or a decrease in appetite)
  • Weight problems (either unexpected weight gain or weight loss)
  • A change in sleep pattern (sleeping all the time or insomnia)
  • A loss of interest in things that a person once enjoyed (such as hobbies and/or socialization)
  • Feelings of low self-worth
  • Hopelessness
  • An extreme, ongoing sense of sadness
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Obsession with death or thoughts of suicide

Bipolar Type Symptoms (Mania)

Symptoms of mania may include:

  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Talking very fast
  • An increase in sexual activity
  • An increase in activity at work or school
  • An increase in social activity
  • Having a very low need for sleep
  • Feelings of agitation
  • Experiencing an inflated sense of self (grandiosity)
  • Feeling easily distracted
  • Engaging in spending sprees or other reckless behavior
  • Exhibiting self-destructive or otherwise dangerous behavior

Complications

Certain medications used to treat schizoaffective disorder can cause some unpleasant side effects.

For example, antidepressant medications can cause:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Sexual problems
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping) or sleepiness
  • Weight gain or weight loss (depending on the type of antidepressant)

Side effects of drugs for psychosis (antipsychotic drugs) include:

  • Weight gain
  • Sedation (particularly with initial doses)
  • Slowing down of movement
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
  • Increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels

It’s very common for people with schizoaffective disorder to have co-occurring disorders, also referred to as comorbidity (two medical conditions that exist at one time).

Possible comorbidities of schizoaffective disorder may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Alcohol or substance use disorders
  • Nicotine addiction

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

It’s not uncommon for people with severe mental illness to be addicted to alcohol or other substances. Often the drugs or alcohol are used to try and alleviate the symptoms and distress of the disorder.

When to See a Doctor

If you or a loved one is exhibiting any signs or symptoms that might be suggestive of schizoaffective disorder, or if you notice:

  • Bizarre behavior or disjointed speech
  • A sudden change in mood
  • Refusal to take medications (for those who are diagnosed and taking medication)
  • Any type of suicidal thoughts (particularly if a plan for suicide has been formulated)

It is important to seek immediate medical intervention. Any hospital emergency room or your medical provider can make a referral to a mental health professional if you don't already have one.

Where to Seek Help

There are many options when urgent medical intervention is required, including:

  • Calling 911
  • Going to a local hospital emergency room or urgent care center
  • Calling a 24-hour suicide crisis line such as The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Treatment

There are several common modalities of treatment for schizoaffective disorder, the exact type of treatment will depend on many different factors such as the type of schizoaffective disorder, the current symptoms, and more.

Treatment may include:

  • Medication: Various types of psychotropic medications may be given for schizoaffective disorder, including antidepressants, mood stabilizers (such as lithium), antipsychotic medications for those having hallucinations or other psychotic symptoms, and other types of drugs. There may be a combination of medications prescribed, such as an antidepressant along with an anti-psychotic medication (when a person has the depressive type of schizoaffective disorder and is having psychotic symptoms).
  • Psychotherapy: A type of talk therapy that can be performed on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting, or both. Psychotherapy fo schizoaffective disorder aims to provide patient education (about the disorder), help a person establish and attain goals, learn coping skills, and manage issues that arise on a day-to-day basis.
  • Skills Training: Provides education and help with improving social skills, living skills (such as eating and cooking healthy meals and money management), and other day-to-day activities (such as hygiene and grooming).
  •  Hospitalization: Most people with serious and persistent mental illness (such as schizoaffective disorder) require periodic hospitalization if they become suicidal, there are other safety concerns, or when symptoms become very severe.
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