What is schizoaffective disorder?
The word schizoaffective has two parts:
- ‘schizo‘ refers to psychotic symptoms
- ‘affective’ refers to mood symptoms.
You may be given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder if you have episodes of mental ill-health when you experience:
- psychotic symptoms, similar to schizophrenia and
- mood symptoms of bipolar disorder and
- you have both psychotic and mood symptoms at the same time or within two weeks of each other.
(For more information on these other diagnoses, see Mind’s booklets Understanding schizophrenia and Understanding bipolar disorder.)
You may have periods when you struggle to look after yourself, and when your doctors consider that you lack insight into your behaviour or how you are feeling. You may be quite well between episodes.
Everyone is different, and episodes vary in length. Some people have repeated episodes, but this does not necessarily happen, and it may not be a life-time diagnosis.
These are experiences called hallucinations and delusions.
- Hallucinations – having hallucinations means experiencing things that others around you don’t. These are most commonly voices which you hear either inside your head, or through your ears as if they were coming from somewhere else. You may also see visual hallucinations, or misinterpret things around you in unusual ways. You may also have unexplained touch sensations, smells and tastes. (See Mind’s booklet How to cope with hearing voices)
- Delusions are strongly held beliefs that other people don’t share. For example, you may that feel your thoughts are being read, or you are being watched or controlled, or that you are very powerful and able to influence things that are actually outside your control.
If you experience psychotic symptoms, your thoughts may become very disorganised and you may feel very confused and frightened. Psychotic symptoms may also influence your mood, so that you feel angry and depressed, or excited and elated.
The mood symptoms of schizoaffective disorder are very like bipolar disorder (manic depression), and may be divided into ‘manic type’, ‘depressive type’ or ‘mixed type’ – just as bipolar disorder is.
- Manic type – you have episodes when your mood symptoms are mainly manic. These episodes may be mild (hypomania) or more severe. Mania can make you feel very excited and enthusiastic about life, very talkative, and you may make plans that are quite unrealistic. You may get very little sleep, and this may make the mania worse. Your own judgement and abilities may be affected so that you might be extravagant with money, and pursue risky business ventures or sexual encounters. At times your excitement can turn to anger or irritability, especially if someone contradicts or questions you. ‘Manic type’ may also be called ‘bipolar type’, especially if you have episodes of depression as well.
- Depressive type – you have episodes when your mood is dominated by depression and you are likely to feel sad, lonely, tired and unable to take any pleasure in life. You may want to sleep a great deal, but this may make you feel worse. If the depression gets really bad, you may feel only emptiness and despair. You may feel quite unable to relate to other people. Your thoughts may become very gloomy and you may feel suicidal.
- Mixed type – this term may be used if you have episodes when you switch between mania and depression in a short time.
Cycles of mania and depression can occur at fairly regular intervals, although this varies from person to person.