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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.

How can I help myself?

Many people who are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder are able to live happy and fulfilling lives, even if they continue to experience symptoms, by looking after themselves as well as they can.

Self-care is how you look after your routine, exercise, relationships, diet and other day-to-day things that contribute to how you are feeling – what helps can be quite personal and different person to person so it is worth trying out different things until you find what works for you.

Many people find that making small changes in certain areas can help prevent some problems from developing, or from getting worse.

It can help to:

If you have repeated episodes it may be helpful to keep a diary recording:

This may help you to spot patterns in your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and to identify situations (or even particular foods or drinks) to avoid and those which have been helpful.

There are many online mood diaries which you may find helpful - see our useful contacts page for more information.

"Having thoughts on paper makes it easier to give them structure and find answers."

You might want to share observations with your close family, friends or care team so they can help support you, whether it's listening to you when you're having a bad day, helping you keep on top of your commitments, or being aware of your triggers. If certain treatments have helped in the past, try discussing these with your doctor.

"I have had to learn ways of reducing and dealing with stress, as my symptoms are at their worst during these times."

During a crisis, you may not always be able to tell people what helps you. So while you are well, it may be a good idea to discuss with someone you trust (such as a friend or family member) what you would like to happen if you are in a crisis.

See our page on planning for a crisis for more information.

When you experience a mental health problem it can sometimes feel like no one understands. You might find it very helpful to talk to other people who have the same diagnosis or a related one, such as schizophrenia, psychosis or bipolar disorder. Peer support can be a great way to do this.

Peer support can help you:

  • feel more positive about the future
  • increase your self esteem
  • find friends
  • recognise patterns in your experiences
  • develop and discuss ways of coping
  • identify early signs of crisis
  • take active steps to manage your situation.

Various organisations run peer support which encourage you to share your experiences and help you come to terms with them. The Hearing Voices Network hosts groups across the country for people who hear, see or sense things that others don't.

There are lots of ways to find peer support. You could:

If you don't feel ready to try peer support but need to talk to someone, many national and local organisations run helplines that you can call in a crisis, such as Samaritans or SANEline. Talking to a trained listener could give you some support and help you make sense of what's happening for you.

Sleep is important, but you may find it very difficult to settle to sleep during an episode. You may be disturbed by voices or upsetting thoughts, or you may feel too wound up to sleep, especially during a manic episode. If you are depressed you may sleep too much and end up feeling sluggish.

It may be helpful to learn relaxation techniques, such as:

  • yoga, meditation or mindfulness
  • a spiritual practice
  • massage, aromatherapy or reflexology (although these may not suit you if you are uncomfortable with being touched).

Practical activities (for example, those that involve making something with your hands) may help you to stay connected to your physical reality in a purposeful way, such as:

  • gardening
  • cooking
  • crafts.

Arts activities can be helpful in expressing your feelings, such as:

  • painting
  • music
  • writing.

You may also find it calming to try to maintain a structured daily routine for yourself. For more ideas, see our pages on arts and creative therapiesnature and mental healthsleep problems, stress, relaxation and mindfulness.

"As well as medication I have an allotment and am involved with a communal project caring for rescue hens. This is one of my main protective factors. Caring for other beings is an important part of staying well."

Read Charlie's story about rediscovering words and writing, and how this helped his mental health.

Try to eat regularly to keep your blood sugar stable – this can make a big difference to your mood and energy levels.

Try keeping a food diary to see if there are any foods which you are sensitive to.

For more tips see our pages on food and mood. 

"I put on weight since starting medication so I have started eating really healthily. I think this has helped my depression too."

Many people find that physical activity, or an activity that helps focus attention on their physical body or surroundings, can help them, such as:

  • a regular walk outdoors
  • sports activities
  • swimming
  • yoga or meditation.

Physical activity has not only been shown to have a positive impact on mood but also to improve sleep.

In some areas, health walks are organised locally, and some doctors will prescribe an exercise programme. See our pages on physical activity and nature and mental health for more information.

"Exercise is very important. If I feel I have too much energy, swimming or a fast long walk can really calm me down and help me sleep. On a low day I might not be up for a swim, but a walk into town really helps me bring my mind and body together."

Having a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder can be extremely difficult but some people find that their experiences change over time and that their symptoms do not necessarily always dominate their life. As you learn to manage your symptoms, you can focus on the things you do well, that you enjoy and find fulfilling.

You may find it helpful to find a recovery college that can help you with this. Recovery colleges offer courses about mental health and recovery in a supportive environment. You can find local providers on the Mind Recovery Net website.

Read Mike's story about his experiences of schizophrenia and what he wishes someone had told him.

"I have learnt to understand myself better, I have graduated university, and I now work with others with mental health difficulties to help them move forward in their life."

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

References and bibliography available on request.

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