Schizoaffective disorder features symptoms from both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
They may sound similar, but schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder represent two different conditions.
Schizoaffective disorder is a bit more complex as it involves more intense mood-related symptoms than schizophrenia. Regardless, if you’re living with either, then you know how much they can interfere with your life.
A combination of medication and psychotherapy is commonly prescribed for both conditions. However, you will want to speak with a doctor to determine what treatment plan is best for you.
Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are two different chronic mental health conditions. Although they have significant differences, they also share some similarities.
Schizophrenia is mainly defined by episodes of psychosis. This includes several symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, that can alter your perception of reality.
Schizoaffective disorder is defined by a combination of psychosis and a mood disorder. Symptoms of a mood disorder will typically include episodes of mania, depression, or both. These extreme mood states are characteristic of bipolar disorder.
Whether or not a person with schizophrenia also has a mood disorder can be
Understanding manic and depressive symptoms is the key to understanding the difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
Symptoms of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia symptoms are generally grouped as either “positive” or “negative” to indicate how they affect your function.
Positive symptoms may include:
- catatonic behaviors
- disorganized speech
Negative symptoms may include:
- emotional withdrawal or lack of emotional expression
- social withdrawal or isolation
- poor rapport
- not speaking or saying very little
- lack of energy
- loss of interest or feelings of pleasure
According to the DSM-V, schizophrenia is diagnosed when the following criteria is met:
- at least one positive symptom is present
- at least one negative symptom is present
- symptoms interfere with work and/or social function
- symptoms aren’t related to another disorder
- symptoms are experienced for the majority of at least 1 month over a 6 month period
Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder
There are two types of schizoaffective disorder. If you experience both mania and depression, it’s referred to as the bipolar type. In other cases, you may only experience depression, which is referred to as the depressive type. Both types include the symptoms of schizophrenia.
- sense of extreme happiness or very high self-esteem
- feeling extremely irritable
- racing or uncontrollable thoughts
- being very talkative
- frequently changing ideas or topics while speaking
- easily distracted
- carrying out risky behavior
- sleeping less often
- having more energy than usual
- feeling sad or empty
- loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
- feeling tired or lethargic
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- difficulty concentrating
- changes in appetite or weight
- thoughts of suicide
- changes in sleep
It may seem like schizoaffective disorder is more severe than schizophrenia because it’s basically two conditions in one. Mood symptoms may make for a more trying emotional experience, but don’t necessarily mean that schizoaffective disorder is more severe than schizophrenia.
While research is limited on the overall treatment success in schizoaffective disorder, it’s generally considered to have a better outcome than schizophrenia.
Compared to schizophrenia, older research showed that people living with schizoaffective disorder reported:
- better overall function at work
- less hospitalizations
- less medication usage
The experience and severity of either disorder also depends on how it affects you personally. Some may notice that their condition interferes with their daily function more intensely or more often than another person.
The treatment for both conditions usually involves medication and psychotherapy. This combined approach aims to help you live a life that is less impacted by the symptoms of either disorder.
Schizophrenia is commonly treated with antipsychotic medications. These work to reduce episodes of psychosis.
In schizoaffective disorder, you’ll likely receive antipsychotics in addition to either antidepressants or mood stabilizers depending on your symptoms.
It’s important to talk to a professional about which medications may be best for you. They can have unwanted side effects or sometimes worsen your symptoms.
- quetiapine (Seroquel)
- aripiprazole (Abilify)
- risperidone (Risperdal)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- citalopram (Celexa)
- lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
- valproic acid
- carbamazepine (Tegretol)
Psychotherapy is used in conjunction with medication to accomplish a number of goals:
- educate you about the condition
- help you cope with the symptoms
- encourage communication around your emotions and challenges
- teach you new approaches to help live with the condition
Different types of psychotherapy are useful in both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. These can include three basic types of therapy, each with a different goal:
- Psychoeducation: focuses on providing you with more information about either schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Topics such as the natural course of the conditions and how you can become more active in treatment are usually discussed, among others.
- Group therapy: in group therapy, you’ll join others in a setting that allows you to share your symptoms and experiences. Oftentimes family members are involved in this type of therapy as well. It can help to provide you with a more rounded perspective of the condition and how it may be affecting the people you love.
- Individual therapy: typically includes a one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy session. In this type of therapy, the aim is to provide you with practical strategies that will make it easier to live with either condition.
Both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder can be equally challenging conditions to live with. Episodes of psychosis alone can result in a visit to the hospital. If you also experience extreme mood changes, this can make life emotionally complex and even traumatic.
Family, friends, and mental health professionals can provide you with the support you may need to improve your quality of life. Whether that’s trying new medications or different types of therapy, it can help you develop new insights and tools so you can get back to work or live a more fulfilled social life.
Not sure where to start? Check out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support.