Signs and Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

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Schizoaffective disorder is an often misunderstood chronic mental health illness. People who have this illness primarily exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia along with symptoms of a mood disorder. These secondary symptoms include those of a bipolar or depressive nature. Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can vary by the individual. 

Many people with schizoaffective disorder are often incorrectly diagnosed at first as either just having schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. What contributes to this illness often being difficult to diagnose and treat is how differently it may present in people. A skilled mental health specialist will need to make a full diagnosis.

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that schizoaffective disorder is rare. Only about 0.3% of the population develops this condition. Men and women develop this condition at about the same rate, with an occurrence in women happening slightly more often. Schizoaffective disorder typically develops between the ages of 16 and 30. Men are more likely to experience the onset of it at an earlier age than women. 

Schizoaffective disorder has two different subtypes:

Bipolar type: With this type, a person experiences symptoms of both schizophrenia and mania. They may also exhibit symptoms of depression.  

Depressive type:  With this type, a person exhibits symptoms of both schizophrenia and major depressive disorder

Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can include:

  • Experiencing hallucinations, such as seeing and hearing things that are not there
  • Delusions a person believes to be true despite evidence that they are not accurate
  • Impaired speech, including being incoherent
  • Disorganized and erratic thinking
  • Bizarre, inexplicable behavior
  • A change in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty functioning in career, academic, social, or familial roles
  • An inability to take care of one’s physical needs and personal hygiene
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Speech and facial expressions that are devoid of emotion
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation
  • Symptoms of depression, including overwhelming sadness,  hopelessness, and a negative self-view
  • Symptoms of mania, including euphoria, episodes of risky behavior, and racing thoughts 

How Schizoaffective Disorder is Treated

The first step involves securing a diagnosis from a medical professional who understands schizoaffective disorder. A physician will often begin with taking a complete medical history of the patient. Performing a physical can help rule out physical causes of symptoms. 

A mental health expert, including psychologists and psychiatrists, will then perform an evaluation. Once an official diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder takes place, a treatment plan can begin development.

Symptoms and signs of schizoaffective disorder are usually treated in a twofold manner. Treatment professionals address both schizophrenic symptoms and those related to depression or bipolar. Signs of schizoaffective disorder may recede for periods of time. They can appear again in reoccurring episodes. 

No cure for schizoaffective disorder is currently available. Individuals with this condition are treated with therapy and medication. The primary prescription medications include anti-psychotics to address the schizophrenic symptoms. Anti-depressant medications and mood stabilizers may be prescribed to assist with any mood disorder symptoms. 

Educating someone about their illness, along with teaching them skills for managing it, can help ease their symptoms. Hospitalization may be required when severe symptoms take place or if the person is determined to be a threat to themselves. 

How much this diagnosis impacts a person’s life varies. For some individuals, their symptoms cause a disruption in how they function day-to-day. It may impact their abilities to work, attend school, and engage in relationships with family and friends. For others, consistent application of proper treatment management means they can lead meaningful, productive lives with fewer interruptions.

What Causes It?

The cause of schizoaffective disorder cannot be limited to just one thing. Genetics can play a big part in its development. This condition may run in some families. Sometimes a very stressful life event, such as the death of a loved one or other traumatic event, can trigger development. 

Modern science continues to study the root causes of this mental illness. The structure of the brain and how it functions can factor into a person developing schizoaffective disorder. Researchers sometimes utilize brain scans to help further an understanding of this. 

Some evidence suggests that usage of mind-altering hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD, can contribute to the development of schizoaffective disorder.

Substance Abuse Disorder Often Accompanies Schizoaffective Disorder

An individual who experiences the signs of schizoaffective disorder often experiences fear. They feel ill-equipped to handle their condition, especially if they have not yet been officially diagnosed. In order to compensate for feelings of panic, depression, and uncertainty related to their condition, many people end up at risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.

When a person self-medicates with alcohol or drugs to the point they develop an addiction, this must be addressed medically. Many treatment programs offer help for co-occurring diagnoses, which are mental health conditions that exist alongside an addiction. 

Addiction and Mental Health Treatment in Los Angeles

If you need help with a substance abuse disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders, Launch Centers is here to help. We offer long-term programs that treat the entire person, including clinical, emotional, and holistic needs. We also help you plan your career and educational goals. Call us right now to find out how we can help you get started on a life of sobriety and better mental health today.

About Our Founder

Jose Hernandez, for over a decade, has been involved in alcohol and addiction recovery helping people succeed in overcoming substance abuse and regaining control of their lives. He has experience in all aspects of the recovery world, from facilitating entry into treatment as an intervention specialist to counseling and case management at rehabilitation facilities. Jose has worked one-on-one with individuals as a sober companion and with groups as a resident counselor at addiction treatment centers and is certified by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Through his professional experiences in crisis intervention, drug and alcohol detoxification, substance abuse counseling, and relapse prevention, Jose has developed a unique plan for case management that bridges the gap between a person’s painful past of substance abuse and a future of sobriety.

At Riviera Recovery, a sober living facility with multiple locations, clients continue their transition from the supportive environment of a treatment center to living well and happily in the “real” world. The program he designed at Riviera Recovery personalizes treatment plans that enable clients, including those with a single or dual-diagnosed mental health disorder, to embrace a satisfying life.

His greatest endeavor has been establishing LAUNCH, a Los Angeles-based life skills intensive outpatient program for young adults. LAUNCH works with recovering men and women to establish personal vocational and educational goals and develop the tools to successfully meet them. His mission is to ensure that no one stands alone in his or her recovery.

Meet Our Clinical Team

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Jess Beck, LCSW

Clinical Director

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Eric Chaghouri, MD


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Chloe Kruskol, LCSW

Family Program Manager

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