Unsure how to manage schizoaffective disorder? Here are some facts and approaches to treatment.

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If you’ve been recently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and are wondering what the treatment consists of, there are different options to consider for this mood disorder. The specific approach will depend on the schizoaffective type and your personal preferences.

Medications are a cornerstone to help stabilize your mood and manage psychosis. Various psychotherapy approaches can teach you more about the condition in general and how to cope with it.

Ultimately, the routine combination of medication and psychotherapy is intended to manage the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and improve quality of life. Working with a mental health professional regularly is a critical part of your treatment plan that can offer benefits well into the future.

Schizoaffective disorder is a condition that causes mood shifts and includes symptoms of psychosis.

As the name implies, schizoaffective disorder resembles schizophrenia but isn’t quite the same. It’s similar because it includes episodes of psychosis, but different because episodes involve mood disorder mania or depression.

Worth listening

You can learn more about the similarities and differences on our “Inside Schizophrenia Podcast: Schizoaffective Disorder vs. Schizophrenia” by clicking play, below:

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are commonly observed in schizoaffective disorder. These usually include various displays of mania, major depression, or both.

Someone living with bipolar disorder can sometimes experience episodes of psychosis, which can make it appear as a schizoaffective disorder. If this occurs, it’s usually during severe episodes of mania or depression.

There are two main categories of symptoms in schizoaffective disorder:

  • bipolar type
  • depressive type

In order to qualify for schizoaffective disorder, you must experience symptoms of psychosis.

In addition, you must also experience either bipolar-type or depressive-type symptoms. Bipolar-type symptoms include manic symptoms and possibly depressive symptoms as well.

Psychotic symptoms

Includes three or more of the following:

Mania symptoms

Depressive symptoms

  • feeling sad, worthless, helpless, or guilty
  • difficulty concentrating
  • low energy or exhaustion
  • insomnia or hypersomnia
  • changes in appetite
  • loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • suicidal thoughts or intention

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge:

Management of schizoaffective disorder usually includes both medications and psychotherapy. A mental health professional will typically work with you to determine which specific medication and therapy are best for you.

Generally, medications are used to reduce episodes of psychosis, mania, and depression. Talk therapy supports various life skills and helps to prevent symptom escalation.

Medications

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics can help prevent and manage psychosis, and lessen aggressive behaviors. They work by altering brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

Psychosis can be difficult to manage and medications could produce unwanted side effects or worsen symptoms. It’s important to keep your prescribing physician in the loop regarding your response to medication so you can get the best one for you.

Common options include:

Paliperidone is the only antipsychotic that’s specifically FDA-approved for schizoaffective disorder. It’s a derivative of risperidone, which is commonly prescribed to manage psychosis.

According to 2015 research, paliperidone is effective for both the management of psychosis and also helps prevent symptom relapse. But more research is needed to determine if it has any specific benefits over more traditional medications.

Mood-stabilizers

Mood stabilizing medications are typically considered if you fall into the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder. They’re meant to reduce symptoms of mania and help regulate your mood.

These include:

Antidepressants

If you don’t experience manic symptoms, then you’ll likely fall into the depressive type of schizoaffective disorder. Antidepressants are typically used to help manage feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which can help prevent intense mood shifts.

There are various types of antidepressants, but selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are preferred over other types, according to a 2015 study. This is likely because they’re better tolerated than the other antidepressant classes.

These include:

Psychotherapy

Individual therapy

This refers to a one-on-one session with a therapist. It can include different approaches to therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is common in schizoaffective disorder.

Talk therapy encourages you to communicate aspects of your emotional experiences and challenges with schizoaffective disorder. It emphasizes personal narratives, emotions, and building a relationship with your therapist.

A small 2019 study examined the effect of psychotherapy in schizoaffective disorder. Researchers found that it improved symptoms and overall function.

CBT focuses more on teaching you coping strategies to help psychosis and depression. It can help:

In combination with medication, CBT is recommended internationally to help manage psychosis.

Family and group therapy

The premise of group and family therapy in schizoaffective disorder is that you can share your symptoms with loved ones or people living with the same condition. Therapies with others can be especially helpful if you tend to self-isolate.

Opening up to family members allows you to share your experiences with them, which can help them better understand how your condition affects you. It can also help family understand what they can do or not do to help you.

Group therapy aims to help you learn ways of coping with your symptoms and improve your relationships. Support groups are meant to be a safe and supportive place where you feel comfortable and secure.

Psychoeducation

Psychoeducation aims to help you better understand schizoaffective disorder and what you can expect. Several topics are covered, such as:

  • the nature of schizoaffective disorder
  • how to be active in your treatment plan
  • the effects and side effects of certain treatments
  • how to identify signs of relapse

Psychoeducation can be conducted in many ways:

  • talking with a therapist and asking questions about how the condition impacts your function
  • asking your prescribing physician about medications
  • attending a class or seminar about schizoaffective disorder
  • going to a support group and receiving information about the condition

Getting educated as much as you can about what you may experience can be an excellent way to help reduce the likelihood of symptom recurrences.

Finding a mental health professional like a therapist is an ideal first step if you’ve recently been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Looking for a therapist but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.

Getting as much education as you can is critical to your overall understanding and attitude toward the condition. It can also help you determine which therapies are best for you.

Ultimately, the way you approach treatment is up to you and your mental health team. Your treatment strategy might change over time as you learn to live with your condition and better understand your needs.