Some people, including many medical experts, believe the symptoms of the disorder make it a subtype of schizophrenia.
This is not quite so. Schizoaffective disorder has its own diagnostic criteria and list of specific symptoms, even though it’s categorized under schizophrenia spectrum.
When you live with schizoaffective disorder, you may experience symptoms of both schizophrenia and certain mood disorders.
You may experience these symptoms together or separately, and usually in cycles.
Schizoaffective disorder affects about
Living with schizoaffective disorder can be challenging, but the condition is treatable, and you can manage symptoms with the help of a professional.
Schizoaffective disorder is a longstanding mental health condition. It’s characterized by a combination of psychosis symptoms and mood disorder symptoms.
Symptoms of psychosis include hallucinations and delusions, while mood disorder symptoms include mania and depression.
In other words, schizoaffective disorder presents as a depressive or bipolar disorder layered on schizophrenia symptoms.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) establishes the criteria for diagnosing schizoaffective disorder.
This reference book for mental health professionals states that the diagnosis of this condition is reached when you meet the primary criteria for schizophrenia while also having mood disorder symptoms.
Criteria for schizophrenia must be met in every case, even if temporarily. For this, two or more of the following symptoms must be present for an uninterrupted period of time:
- disorganized speech
- disorganized or catatonic behavior
- negative symptoms (e.g., loss of pleasure, flat expressions, lack of motivation)
But that’s not all. To reach a diagnosis, these criteria must also be met:
- having hallucinations or delusions without mood symptoms for a period of two or more consecutive weeks
- experiencing a major mood episode like depression or mania
- having mood symptoms that are present for most of the duration of the condition
- having symptoms that are not explained by substance use, like drugs or alcohol consumption
As the symptoms suggest, schizoaffective disorder affects your mood, thoughts, and behavior.
Your symptoms and the duration of the episodes may vary. Sometimes, you might not have any dominant symptoms between episodes.
You might also experience recurring episodes, although this is not always the case with schizoaffective disorder.
Just as there is more than one type of mood disorder, there are also different subtypes of schizoaffective disorder.
Each type presents with different symptoms.
Bipolar type is diagnosed when symptoms of schizophrenia overlap with symptoms of bipolar disorder, specifically manic episodes.
If you have this type of schizoaffective disorder, you may experience symptoms such as:
- agitation and distraction
- major depressive episodes
- disorganized thinking
- episodes of mania — feeling overly energetic or excited
- inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- racing thoughts
- low impulse control
Depressive type is diagnosed only if major depressive episodes are dominant among your symptoms.
Symptoms of depressive type include:
- change in appetite and weight
- major depressive episodes
- disinterest in everyday activities
- feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
- recurrent thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- sleeping too little or too much
There are no laboratory or equipment tests to diagnose schizoaffective disorder.
To provide a diagnosis, a mental health professional will want to learn more about your concerns, personal and family medical history, and dominant symptoms.
They will then compare these observations with the criteria established by the DSM-5.
Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder mainly affect your emotional expression and regulation. In other words, they’re affective disorders.
On the other hand, schizophrenia primarily affects your thinking and cognition.
With schizoaffective disorder, you experience a combination of symptoms that affect both your emotions and your thinking abilities.
Some people mistakenly think schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are the same condition. People with schizophrenia, however, do not experience predominant mood episodes.
In the psychiatric community, some experts also believe schizoaffective disorder should be considered a subtype of schizophrenia instead of a standalone psychotic disorder.
This is because when you look at the dominant symptoms, schizoaffective disorder may resemble schizophrenia more than it does depressive or bipolar disorders.
In fact, a set criterion to receive this diagnosis is that you must have two or more symptoms of psychosis, typical of schizophrenia.
The DSM-5 considers schizoaffective disorder a standalone diagnosis, although it appears in the chapter on schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders.
You can manage symptoms of schizoaffective disorder through long-term treatment that typically involves a combination of medication and therapy.
Symptoms of psychosis, however, often require immediate medical intervention.
It’s important to seek immediate help if you are experiencing any of the following:
- depression with feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- inability to control your impulses, which might lead you to engage in behavior that puts your safety or that of someone else in jeopardy
- difficulty caring for your personal needs or the needs of those under your care
- thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others
The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder are longstanding and may impact the way you see yourself and the world.
These symptoms can be managed, however. It’s possible to live a functional life with schizoaffective disorder.
You might want to consider these resources when reaching out for support:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
- National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- Early Assessment and Support Alliance (EASA)
- Prodrome and Early Psychosis Program Network (PEPPNET)
- The Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance
- Inclusive Therapists