Signs and Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health disorder that is marked by a combination of schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions (psychosis), and mood disorder symptoms, such as depression or mania.

As the Mayo Clinic explains, there are two types of schizoaffective disorder: bipolar type, which includes episodes of mania, and sometimes major depression, and depressive type, which includes only major depressive episodes but no mania. 

Because of its hybrid character, schizoaffective disorder is not easy to diagnose correctly. “Many people with schizoaffective disorder are often incorrectly diagnosed at first with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Because schizoaffective disorder is less well-studied than the other two conditions, many interventions are borrowed from their treatment approaches.” 

Schizoaffective disorder falls under the schizophrenia spectrum and psychotic disorders category. Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is a mood disorder. The key difference is that people living with schizoaffective disorder experience symptoms of psychosis independently of any mood episodes. In the case of bipolar disorder, symptoms of psychosis may occur during episodes of mania or depression but not otherwise.

Schizoaffective disorder is relatively rare, with a lifetime prevalence of only 0.3 percent. Sometimes other conditions such as psychotic depression, bipolar disorder I, schizophreniform disorder, or schizophrenia are mistaken for schizoaffective disorder. 

Treatments for schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and major depression with psychosis are fairly similar. If both manic episodes and depressive episodes are evident, the medications used are likely to include antipsychotic agents and mood stabilizers. If the illness only presents with depressive features and no manic symptoms at any time, then antidepressants are likely to be used.

Mania and depression are usually episodic and can be interspersed with long periods of complete remission of symptoms. If the illness is continuous, with no remission, then the diagnosis may be schizoaffective disorder.

As Nancy Lovering explained in a recent article on PsychCentral about bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, “it’s not possible to have both conditions at the same time. You’d either receive a bipolar disorder with psychotic features diagnosis or a schizoaffective bipolar type diagnosis. The difference would be if you experience mood episodes and psychosis at the same time as in bipolar disorder or if they appear independently at times.”

Colorado Recovery provides services for adults with serious mental illnesses that will stabilize their illness, minimize symptoms, improve functioning and enhance each person’s social inclusion, quality of life, and sense of meaning in life.  We provide residential and outpatient treatment options for schizophrenia, bipolar, schizoaffective disorder, and other mental health conditions. 

The treatment program at Colorado Recovery aims to empower adults with mental illness, and those who support them, with an unrelenting optimism for recovery, purposeful involvement in the community, and an enhanced sense of meaning in life. Call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.