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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.

This section is for the friends and family of someone who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Support provided by family and friends can play an important role in helping someone recover from an episode of schizoaffective disorder and reducing the likelihood of them having further episodes.

It can, however, be stressful to care for or support somebody and you may also want or need support yourself.

This page will offer some suggestions on how you can help others and yourself:

Understand the diagnosis

Most people want to feel cared about, to not feel alone, and want someone they can talk about their feelings and options with. Learning about and understanding the impact of schizoaffective disorder can help you:

  • recognise early symptoms - potentially preventing major episodes
  • give you confidence to discuss problems and offer help
  • react calmly, even in difficult situations, and work towards a positive outcome.

If someone is experiencing psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices, it can be very helpful if you:

  • make the person feel understood
  • accept that the voices are real for them, even if you can't hear them
  • focus on how they are feeling, rather than what they are experiencing.

Ask how you and others can help

Ask your friend or relative how you can be most helpful. Practical things you can do might include:

  • support them to get treatment or access a particular service
  • keep them company if they are feeling anxious about going to something new, such as an appointment or activity
  • encourage them to look after themselves if they are neglecting their general wellbeing or appearance
  • remind them to take any medication prescribed
  • check in with them regularly for a chat if you are not nearby
  • support them in making decisions – even if they ask you to act on their behalf it's important to encourage them to make their own decisions - consult them and try to avoid 'taking over'
  • respect the choices they make, even if they would not be what you would choose for yourself
  • be clear about what you feel you can and can't help with - think about your own limits and boundaries
  • help them get alternative support if necessary – it may be possible to find an independent advocate to help them.

When your friend or relative is feeling well, it can be helpful to discuss with them how you can help if a crisis occurs or if they are at the start of another episode. You might:

  • encourage them to write a crisis plan 
  • discuss and look out for symptoms
  • be aware of or make a note of their triggers.

This can help them to avoid crises or manage them differently in future where possible.

For further information see our pages on supporting someone to seek helpadvocacy and planning for a crisis

"My fiancée isn't afraid to talk to me if she thinks I am getting worse. This has helped me notice changes myself."

Get help in an emergency

If you think your friend or family member may be at risk of hurting themselves or others, it may be necessary to consider a mental health assessment for them.

The nearest relative, as defined under the Mental Health Act, can request that the person at risk be given a mental health assessment by an approved mental health professional. This assessment involves considering treatment options and deciding whether or not the person should be admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act.

For further information see our pages on the Mental Health Act, crisis services, sectioning, and the nearest relative.

Get support for yourself

It can be very upsetting when someone you are close to experiences a psychotic episode with severe depression or mania.

You may find it helpful to get support in coping with your own feelings, either through talking therapy or peer support, where you can talk to other people who have similar experiences. This support may be available at a local Mind or other carers' groups, such as Carers UK.

Carers are also entitled to have their own needs for practical and emotional support assessed by social services, as part of a carer's assessment. A number of national and local voluntary organisations provide help and information for carers on these topics. Your mental health is important too, and looking after someone else could put a strain on your wellbeing.

For further information and advice on how to look after yourself see our pages on how to cope when supporting someone else, managing stress and maintaining your wellbeing.

This information was published in May 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

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