There may be a genetic component, as schizoaffective disorder can run in families. If a family member has schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, there is an increased chance that others in the family may also develop it.
Schizoaffective disorder is a complex mental health disorder encompassing features from both schizophrenia and a mood disorder. Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic condition that will require lifelong management. Schizoaffective disorder is a rare form of mental illness, with approximately 0.3% of the population affected by it. It is difficult to quantify the exact number of people affected, however, because many times the individual will be incorrectly diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
As with all psychotic disorders, science has still not determined the exact cause of schizoaffective disorder. However, there are some risk factors that may contribute to the development of this mental health disorder. These include:
- Family history
- Brain structures
Brain imaging has contributed to a better understanding of the role that brain chemistry and brain structures might be different in an individual with schizoaffective disorder.
- Negative life events
Highly stressful events, such as the sudden death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, or any traumatic event may cause the onset of this mental illness.
- Drug use
Certain psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, may be a factor in developing schizoaffective disorder.
Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder
Because schizoaffective disorder is a blend of the features of schizophrenia with the features of a mood disorder, it may present in varying ways. These include:
- As a mood disorder with symptoms of schizophrenia
- Schizophrenia with mood symptoms (mania or depression)
- As both a mood disorder and schizophrenia
- A non-schizophrenic psychotic disorder with a mood disorder
Signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may include:
- Hallucinations (auditory and/or visual)
- Paranoid thoughts
- Mental confusion
- Catatonic behavior
- Incoherent speech
- Unusual or disorganized behaviors
- Poor personal hygiene
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in sleep habits
- Difficulty communicating with others, social isolation
- Suicidal thoughts
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Racing thoughts
- Bouts of euphoria
- Engaging in risky behaviors, impulsivity
- Loss of appetite
- Frenetic or hyperactive state
- Substance abuse
According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis requires that the individual experiences an uninterrupted period of active illness during which there will be a major mood episode, either depressive or manic. During this period there must be two of the following symptoms also present: delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech. The symptoms must not be caused by the effects of substance abuse, from a side effect of a medication, or from a health condition.
Treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is manageable with treatment compliance. Treatment may include the following interventions:
Medications will be prescribed based on the features of the schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. The drugs used might include antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers.
Therapy will focus on psychosocial education and skills. Therapy can help the individual acquire skills for finding a job or functioning successfully in a workplace, improving interpersonal relationships, problem solving skills, and how to manage personal finances.
- Family therapy
Family-focused group therapy can assist family members in gaining a better understanding of their loved one’s illness, and provide skills to help improve communication, medication compliance, and conflict resolution, while encouraging family support of the loved one.
- Group therapy
Group therapy sessions can be beneficial setting for individuals with schizoaffective disorder to share their experience with other participants while building a sense of peer support.
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