Schizoaffective disorder

For anyone who has been given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, and their friends and relatives. Explains what the disorder is, and the types of treatment and support available.

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How is schizoaffective disorder diagnosed?

There is no test for schizoaffective disorder. A doctor will make the diagnosis after assessing your symptoms, how long you have had them, and the way the psychotic and mood symptoms occur (either together or separately) during episodes.


For a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, in one episode you must have:

  • both psychotic symptoms and mood symptoms at the same time for part of the time
  • a period with only psychotic symptoms
  • mood symptoms for most of the episode

Symptoms usually start when you are a young adult.

Women are more likely to have the diagnosis than men, and are also more likely to have the depressive type.

Ruling out other conditions

The diagnosis is difficult to make and can be confused with other conditions.

Possible physical causes of your symptoms need to be ruled out. For example, an under- or over-active thyroid gland can cause some of the same symptoms, so your thyroid function should be checked before you are given a diagnosis.

Street drugs can also cause some of the same symptoms, so your doctor will need to know if you are using any (or have done in the past).

Some people have psychotic symptoms during a period of severe depression or a period of severe mania. But if you have not had the psychotic symptoms alone (without the mood symptoms) this would not count as schizoaffective disorder.

If you have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and experience a short episode of depression, this would not mean that your diagnosis should be changed to schizoaffective disorder.

The differences are quite subtle, and you may be given different diagnoses at different times and by different psychiatrists.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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