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 can I help myself?

Recognise your triggers

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

This may help you to:

  • spot patterns
  • identify situations (or even particular foods or drinks) to avoid and those which have been helpful

You might want to share these things with your close family or friends so they can help.

There are online mood diaries which you may find helpful (see ‘Useful contacts’).

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

Create a crisis plan

During a crisis, you may not 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, family member or work colleague) what you would like to happen if you are in a crisis.

You could also make an ‘advance decision’, explaining what you would like to happen if you become unable to make decisions about your treatment or domestic arrangements. If someone else needs to decide things in your best interests, your advance statement should always be taken into account. Some parts of advance decisions are legally binding.

Share your experience

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). Various organisations run self-help groups which encourage you to share your experiences and help you come to terms with them.

Self-help groups 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

Self-help groups can be particularly helpful in coping with hallucinations such as voices.

For organisations that can put you in touch with self-help groups, see 'Useful contacts'.

Peer support groups also enable you to get in touch with others with similar experiences, to support and learn from each other.

Try new ways of relaxing

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 (these may not suit you if you are uncomfortable with being touched)

Practical activities such as:

  • gardening
  • cooking
  • crafts – making things may help you stay connected to reality in a purposeful way

Arts activities can be helpful in expressing your feelings:

  • painting
  • music
  • writing

You may also find it calming to maintain a structured daily routine for yourself.

For more ideas, see sleep problems, stress and relaxation.

Think about your diet

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

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

There are more tips here.

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

Try some physical activity

Many people find that physical activity can help them, such as:

  • a regular walk in the open air
  • sports activities
  • swimming

These may also improve your sleep.

In some areas, health walks are organised locally, and some doctors will prescribe an exercise programme. (See physical activity and ecotherapy).

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.

Focus on the positive

Having a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder does not have to dominate your life. It does not have to be life-long, and you may not necessarily have repeated episodes.

As you learn to manage your symptoms – recognising what is helpful as well as things which may trigger a relapse – you can focus on the things you do well, that you enjoy and find fulfilling.


Recovery approach

As you focus on the positive, you may find the Recovery approach helpful. This means:

  • living the very best life you can, with the life experiences you have had and the consequences of them, even if these include long-term or recurrent mental health problems
  • building your resilience and wellbeing, and focusing on the things you can do, rather than those you may no longer be able to do
  • making our own choices, and being your own person
  • maintaining hope

Support in this may be available from Recovery and Wellbeing centres or Recovery Colleges, if you have any in your area.

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 July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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