Signs & Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that presents with symptoms resembling that of schizophrenia and a mood disorder combined. As a result of this combination, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes schizoaffective disorder as lying between a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Although the wide array of symptoms that accompany schizoaffective disorder lead to a lot of debate amongst the psychiatric community as to how to make an appropriate diagnosis, most experts identify this illness as having psychotic symptoms at its core, with both manic and depressive symptoms presenting as secondary components. Yet, despite being considered secondary components, mania and depression can be just as debilitating as psychosis, making this disorder not only complex, but also devastating for those who suffer from it.

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Researchers have stated that schizoaffective disorder is approximately one-third as prevalent as schizophrenia, leaving it with a lifetime occurrence of 0.3%. Additionally, this illness is said to be more prevalent in women, with two-thirds of the total amount of people that have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder being women.

Causes and Risk Factors for Schizoaffective Disorder

The causes that lead to the onset of schizoaffective disorder are believed to be the result of a combination of different factors, as described in the following:

Genetic: As is true for most, if not all, mental illnesses, the development of schizoaffective disorder is believed to have a strong genetic link. Individuals who have a first-degree relative who is suffering from schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder are noted as being at a much greater risk of experiencing the onset of this illness than are individuals who do not have the same family history.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies have indicated that the presence of malformations in the brain can lead to the development of schizoaffective disorder. These studies have shown that individuals with schizoaffective disorder tend to have a smaller brain volume than do individuals who are not afflicted by this illness. Additionally, people who struggle with developmental delays as a result of structural differences in the brain are at a higher risk of developing schizoaffective disorder.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors are believed to play a role in the onset of schizoaffective disorder. More specifically, being exposed to certain toxins or viruses while in utero are believed to have a strong impact on the development of this disorder, as does the presence of brain damage resulting from complications occurring during birth.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Developmental delays
  • Substance abuse
  • Having been the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Prenatal exposure to certain toxins (including exposure to drugs and/or alcohol in utero)
  • Prenatal exposure to viruses

Signs and Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

As a result of the fact that schizoaffective disorder remains a widely misunderstood illness, the ways in which symptoms present can be misinterpreted, often leading to a misdiagnosis as they tend to mimic the symptoms that are present in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The specific symptoms themselves will vary from person to person, but it is imperative that thorough symptomatic histories are presented to mental health professionals so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment can be implemented for schizoaffective disorder. Examples of possible signs that may be indicative of the presence of schizoaffective disorder can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Disorganized behaviors
  • Catatonic behaviors
  • Impaired social and/or occupational functioning
  • Isolation
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Attempts at committing suicide

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Poor hygiene
  • Flat affect
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Weight gain or weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Memory impairment
  • Attention difficulties
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Racing thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Severe depressive episodes
  • Severe manic episodes
  • Lack of motivation
  • Drastically low self-esteem or feelings of grandiosity, depending on whether the person is experiencing a manic or a depressive episode
  • Extremely high levels of anxiety
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Schizoaffective Disorder

When schizoaffective disorder remains untreated or is misdiagnosed, the long-term effects can be devastating on the lives of those afflicted by it. Examples of such effects may include:

  • Discord within interpersonal relationships
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Loss of employment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Homelessness
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

In some instances, schizoaffective disorder will be diagnosed in addition to another mental health disorder. The most commonly cited disorders known to occur alongside schizoaffective disorder include:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
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