Schizoaffective Disorder Effects, Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn About Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness in which an individual experiences a combination of two different mental illnesses – schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms. As this disorder is a blend of two other mental illnesses, the disorder itself is not well-understood or defined by mental health professionals. This is due, in large part, to the symptomatology of the combination of a mood disorder and schizophrenia presenting very differently in each person affected. There exist two types of schizoaffective disorder: bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, in which the individual experiences episodes of mania (depression may or may not be evident), and depressive-type schizoaffective disorder, which occurs if symptoms of major depressive disorder are present.

Psychotic features and mood disturbances experienced in schizoaffective disorder may occur together or may appear in interchangeable cycles. The general sequence of schizoaffective disorder often features cycles of severe symptoms followed by an improved, more positive outlook. To establish a proper diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, an individual must have at some point displayed hallucinations or delusions for at least two weeks even while the symptoms of the mood disorder are well controlled.

Many experts in the mental health field firmly maintain that schizoaffective disorder is a kind of chronic mental illness that has psychotic symptoms at the core and  depressive and manic symptoms as a secondary — but similarly incapacitating —factor. Unfortunately, as schizoaffective disorder consists of a wide assortment of symptoms, some individuals may be incorrectly diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. This is problematic because it can lead to unnecessary and ineffective attempts at treatment – specifically the usage of anti-psychotic medications when not needed.

If left untreated, individuals who have schizoaffective disorder may lead lonesome lives, have challenges with remaining employed or in school, and lack the ability to form lasting interpersonal relationships. However, if properly treated, the symptoms of this disorder can be reduced to the point that the quality of life for these individuals is much improved. Treatment is often similar to the treatments for both schizophrenia and mood disorders, such as anti-psychotic medication and numerous therapeutic interventions.


Schizoaffective Disorder Statistics

Schizoaffective disorder is about one-third as common as schizophrenia. The lifetime prevalence for schizoaffective disorder is approximately 0.3%. The incidence rate of schizoaffective disorder appears to be higher in women, who generally experience the depressive-type of the disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizoaffective and Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizoaffective disorder often occurs with a number of additional disorders. The most frequently co-occurring mental illnesses include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety disorders

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Schizoaffective Disorder

It is believed that rather than one single cause for schizoaffective disorder, the disorder is likely the result of a number of factors working in tandem. These causes for schizoaffective disorder may include:

Genetic: Similar to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder is thought to have a genetic component. This means that individuals who have a first-degree relative or family history of schizophrenia, mood disorders, or schizoaffective disorder are at a higher risk for developing the disorder themselves.

Brain Chemistry: It’s thought that schizoaffective disorder may involve imbalances in neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that help regulate mood.

Environmental: Prenatal exposure to certain toxins or viruses may play some type  a role in the development of this disorder. Additionally, birth complications may lead to the development of schizoaffective disorder.

Psychological: Many individuals who have schizoaffective disorder attempt to treat the symptoms of their disorder with drugs or alcohol. The usage of substances tends to exacerbate the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can vary wildly among individuals, which can lead to faulty diagnosis and improper treatments. It is of the utmost importance that individuals who are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder receive a proper diagnosis from a clinician skilled in treating schizoaffective disorder. The most common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may include the following:

Depressive symptoms:

  • Hopelessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in motor activity
  • Fatigue
  • Guilt
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Helplessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Disrupted appetite
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal behaviors

Manic symptoms:

  • Increased amounts of energy
  • Agitation
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feelings of grandiosity
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Pressured, fast speech
  • Distractibility
  • Increase in impulsive behaviors
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Spending large amounts of money
  • Increased risk-taking behavior
  • Substance abuse

Schizophrenia symptoms:

  • Disorganized thinking – unclear or confused thoughts
  • Irritability or poor control of temper
  • Thoughts of homicide
  • Speaking in a way that cannot be followed or understood
  • Behaving catatonically (a coma-like daze) or behaving in a hyperactive and bizarre fashion
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Reduced outward emotional expressions
  • Avolition – loss of motivation
  • Anhedonia – lack of ability to feel pleasure
  • Lack of spontaneous speech
  • Difficulty with attention and memory
  • Paranoid thoughts and ideas
  • Lack of concern for physical hygiene or appearance
  • Delusions – false yet firm beliefs
  • Hallucinations – especially auditory hallucinations or “hearing voices”
  • Strange, unusual thoughts or perceptions


Effects of Schizoaffective Disorder

Individuals who have schizoaffective disorder that remains untreated or improperly treated run the risk of developing numerous complications in their lives. One of the biggest risks for individuals who have schizoaffective disorder is suicide, so all warning signals of suicide should be taken very seriously.

  • Some of the most common effects of untreated schizoaffective disorder may include the following:
    • Homelessness
    • Social isolation
    • Difficulties following therapeuticregime
    • Decreased ability to carry out activities of daily living
    • Joblessness
    • Poverty
    • Lack of social support
    • Living in a group home
    • Legal problems
    • Incarceration
    • Consequences of risky behaviors
    • Development of schizophrenia
    • Major depression
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Alcoholism
    • Substance abuse and addiction
    • Suicidal thoughts
    • Suicide

Marks of Quality Care
  • Arkansas Juvenile Officers Association
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB)
  • Missouri Hospital Association
  • Missouri Juvenile Justice Association
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval
  • Tricare

I had no idea what to do when my son felt like he was going crazy from his schizoaffective disorder. I was not prepared for his symptoms to get much worse. Fortunately, the staff at Lakeland was able to help him get his symptoms under control, and now our family feels more hopeful.

– Caroline T.