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Schizoaffective disorder

Explains what schizoaffective disorder is, including its symptoms and causes. Gives advice on how you can help yourself and what types of treatment and support are available, as well as guidance for friends and family.

What causes schizoaffective disorder?

Researchers don't know exactly what causes schizoaffective disorder. But it's likely to be caused by a combination of factors, such as:

Stressful or traumatic life events

Some people find that stressful or traumatic experiences can trigger a mood episode or an episode of psychosis. Stress may also make your symptoms feel more intense or difficult to manage.

You may be able to link the start of your symptoms to a very stressful period in your life, such as:

See our pages on managing stress for more information on the links between stress and mental health.

Childhood trauma

Some evidence suggests that experiencing a great deal of emotional distress as a child may increase the risk of developing schizoaffective disorder. This can include experiences like:

  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Neglect
  • Traumatic events
  • Losing someone very close to you, such as a parent or carer

Experiencing trauma and distress as a child can have a lasting effect. For example, on how you’re able to regulate your emotions as an adult. See our pages on trauma for more information.

Brain chemistry

The way mental health problems and brain chemistry are related is still unclear and debated. The human brain is extremely complex. And the research and arguments in this area are complicated.

Schizoaffective disorder symptoms can sometimes be helped by taking certain psychiatric medications. Some of these medications are thought to act on your neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body.

Some research suggests that schizoaffective disorder may relate to problems with how these neurotransmitters work, but no one knows for sure.


If you experience schizoaffective disorder, you're more likely to have a family member who also experiences symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (even if they don’t have a diagnosis).

However, research into genetic causes is limited. Research hasn't found a single gene that's responsible for schizoaffective disorder. Family links are more complex.

Researchers think that environmental factors may explain why some people experience symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. And family members can be a very influential part of your environment as you grow up.

We don’t know why someone might develop schizoaffective symptoms rather than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

I have a long family history of mental health problems, my Dad and his twin had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and my Mum and her Mum had a diagnosis of bipolar.

This information was published in February 2023. We will revise it in 2026. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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