Over the past several years, the United States has witnessed an explosion in people who have mental health disorders. The figures have risen dramatically, and conditions like schizoaffective disorder, albeit rare, have become more pronounced. Schizoaffective disorder, not to be confused with schizophrenia, is a condition with similar symptoms but has key differences.

Unfortunately, people with the disorder are often misdiagnosed, so learning more about it can help determine if you or a loved one has it. Below, we’ll delve into schizoaffective disorder and learn more about the causes, medications used to manage it, and the type of therapy offered.

Schizoaffective Disorder Statistics

Each year across the United States and abroad, millions of people live with a mental illness daily. It’s important to understand how widespread it is and how it affects people physically, socially, and financially. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a staggering one in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness, with one in 20 battling severe mental illness like schizoaffective disorder. The same study found that 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness starts by the age of 14 and 75 percent by the age of 24.

NAMI describes schizoaffective disorder as extremely rare, with a lifetime prevalence of only 0.3 percent. Men and women are at the same risk of developing it, but men often develop the disorder at an earlier age. Schizoaffective condition is serious and profoundly impacts those diagnosed with it. Seeking schizoaffective disorder treatment is crucial if you want to lead a balanced life.

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

The Mayo Clinic defines schizoaffective disorder as a mental health disorder marked by schizophrenia symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression. There are two types of schizoaffective disorder – both of them include schizophrenia symptoms – and consist of the following:

  • Bipolar type: This includes episodes of mania and major depression.
  • Depressive type: This includes only significant depressive episodes

Schizoaffective disorder is unique to the person it affects. When left untreated, it can lead to serious issues at school, work, and in social situations. It can also lead to loneliness and problems keeping a job or steady attendance at school. Those with the condition require assistance and continued support to function. Fortunately, treatment can manage symptoms and improve the quality of life, but many people report not liking the medication’s effects, meaning their symptoms go untreated.

Since the condition affects each person differently, the symptoms will vary from one person to another. Someone diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder can experience psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, while others battle mania or depression. The condition’s development and how it runs its course also vary from person to person. The defining features include major mood episodes and at least two weeks of psychotic symptoms when a major mood episode isn’t present.

Schizoaffective disorder’s most common symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations: When the individual sees or hears things that don’t exist in reality.
  • Delusions: When the individual holds false, fixed beliefs despite there being a mountain of evidence against them.
  • Disorganized thinking: When the individual switches very quickly from one topic to another or provides an answer to a question that’s unrelated
  • Depressed mood: When the individual experiences feelings of emptiness, sadness, worthlessness, and other symptoms synonymous with depression.
  • Manic behavior: When the individual experiences racing thoughts, feelings of euphoria, increased risky behavior, and other symptoms tied to mania.

How Does Schizoaffective Disorder Affect You and Who Gets It?

Unfortunately, schizoaffective disorder is a lifelong illness that impacts all facets of a person’s life. Someone diagnosed with the condition will experience unique challenges functioning at school, work, or around their peers. It can also impact close relationships with friends and family. Those with schizoaffective disorder will endure periodic episodes, which is when their symptoms will be extremely bad, and other times they’ll disappear for a while.

As mentioned above, schizoaffective disorder is incredibly rare – only three in 1,000 individuals will develop it in their lifetime. It typically appears in the late teens or early adulthood but can impact people up to age 30. It seldom occurs in children. Some information says it affects women more than men, but it typically affects both genders at the same clip. Schizoaffective is challenging to diagnose and is often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. Others might be diagnosed with a mood disorder.

It is believed the following cause schizoaffective disorder:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Brain structure
  • Environmental factors
  • Drug use

How to Make a Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis

If you or a loved one is showing symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, seek help right away. A healthcare provider will thoroughly examine you and dig into your medical history. Unfortunately, no lab test can diagnose the condition. However, healthcare providers often use X-rays and blood tests to rule out other conditions that could contribute to your symptoms. If there are no physical causes for your symptoms, they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These professionals diagnose and treat conditions stemming from mental and behavioral health problems.

You must be honest about your symptoms. Since misdiagnosis is common, telling them exactly what you’re experiencing can help them find a solution. They’ll use interview and assessment tools to diagnose the condition. They’ll listen to how you describe the symptoms and watch your speech, movement, and behavior.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a person has schizoaffective disorder if they show the following:

  • Periods of uninterrupted mental illness – this can include periods of depression or another mood disorder for a prolonged period
  • Episodes of mania, depression, or both, while also showing symptoms of schizophrenia
  • Two weeks of psychotic symptoms without mood symptoms
  • No evidence of a substance use disorder or taking medication that might cause these symptoms

How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Treated?

Treating schizoaffective disorder requires a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and skills training. Since an imbalance of chemicals in the brain causes the condition, medication will stabilize your mood and treat the psychotic symptoms. Once those are managed, therapy and skills training will help you reintegrate into society and train you for social situations. While it’s not easy, it’s possible to live with schizoaffective disorder.

Your healthcare provider will determine which medication is best for you and how much you need to take. Remember, finding the medicine that works and how much you’ll need takes time. You will experiment with how much to take and likely try out a few medications before finding one that works. These are the following medications you’ll be taking:

  • Antipsychotics: These medications treat psychotic symptoms synonymous with schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking.
  • Antidepressants: Mood stabilizers like lithium will manage mood-related symptoms. In some cases, the individual might require antidepressants and antipsychotics to manage their symptoms.

How Psychotherapy and Skills Training Help Schizoaffective Disorder

While medication will balance how you feel, it’s important to go through psychotherapy as well. As you meet with a trained mental health professional, they’ll help you understand the following about your illness:

  • Learn more about schizoaffective disorder and how it affects your life
  • Help you establish goals now that you’re getting treatment
  • Help you get through the everyday problems related to the condition

Family therapy might also be a great option for you. Since your family might be in the dark about the illness, educating them can also help reestablish relationships. When someone doesn’t understand, therapy can help them cope and support you. Family therapy will directly translate into improved symptoms and a better quality of life for you.

Skills training is also crucial – it helps you manage your day-to-day life much better. Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental illness, so doing everything you can to manage it will help you later on. Skills training focuses on the following:

  • Daily activities, such as managing your money and keeping your home tidy
  • Grooming and hygiene
  • How to interact with others
  • How to maintain a job

It’s not an easy road – but with the right help and medication, you can live with this condition.

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