Schizoaffective Disorder: What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder vary by individual but include at least some of the symptoms of schizophrenia and of a mood disorder, like depression or bipolar disorder. These often include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thoughts and speech, serious depression, and manic episodes of high energy and inflated self-esteem.

Schizoaffective Disorder Defined


Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that causes symptoms of schizophrenia along with symptoms of a mood disorder. The mood disorder symptoms may be those of depression or bipolar disorder. This mental illness is very serious and will not get better without intervention. There are many potential complications, such as suicidal thoughts and drug abuse. In order to recognize the need for an evaluation, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.

The signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can range from psychosis to mood swings and depression. While there are characteristic symptoms of this mental health condition, each person is unique and experiences it in a different way than others. It is important to seek professional guidance, to see a doctor or therapist, if the signs of this serious illness appear in oneself or in a loved one. Although there is no treatment to cure schizoaffective disorder, personalized treatment plans can help manage symptoms.

Schizoaffective Symptoms Include Those of Schizophrenia


The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can be split into two main types: schizophrenia symptoms and mood symptoms. Schizophrenia is a type of psychosis, characterized by being out of touch with reality. Many of the symptoms are related to psychosis, although there are also symptoms that cause unusual movements, emotional responses, speech, and thinking:

  • Hallucinations and delusions. These are the main symptoms of the psychosis caused by schizophrenia. A person may hear or see voices, objects, or people that are not really there and believe they are real. These are hallucinations. Delusions are ideas or thoughts that are false but that persist, even with evidence to the contrary.
  • Disorganized thinking and speaking. A person with schizophrenic symptoms may have unusual thoughts that manifest as unusual speech. They may talk in a “word salad” that doesn’t make sense to anyone else.
  • Unusual movements. Schizophrenia can cause a person to move in unusual ways: repetitive motions, holding an unusual posture, mimicking others’ movements. It may even cause someone to become catatonic.
  • Inappropriate or decreased emotions. Unusual emotional responses, such as laughing in a sad or serious situation, can occur with this condition. A person may also have decreased emotional expression and appear flat or unfeeling.

Schizoaffective Disorder Depression Type Symptoms


Schizoaffective disorder causes the characteristic psychosis of schizophrenia, but also the symptoms of a mood disorder. In the depression type of this condition, those mood symptoms are the same as those seen with clinical or major depression, although the exact symptoms experienced vary by individual:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression that persist
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicidal behaviors, and attempted suicide
  • Fatigue and lack of interest in normal activities
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, focusing, or making decisions
  • Sleeping more than is normal, or insomnia
  • Eating more or less, and losing or gaining weight
  • Unusual irritability or anger

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Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms


When someone experiences the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder, he or she will have the symptoms of schizophrenia as well as those of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycles of manic episodes and depressive episodes. The symptoms of a depressive episode are the same as those for depression, while a manic episode may cause:

  • Extreme, seemingly boundless energy and a desire to keep going and doing more
  • A decreased need for sleep
  • An inflated and unreasonable sense of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • A feeling of euphoria
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Racing thoughts, which in turn cause fast, non-stop speech
  • Distractibility
  • Risky and dangerous behaviors

Recognizing Signs of Schizoaffective Disorder


Recognizing Signs of Schizoaffective Disorder

Symptoms are not always obvious, and a person experiencing them may try to hide them from others. It is important for family members and friends to take action in recognizing and reporting signs that someone is struggling with a mental illness. Some early signs of schizophrenia that should trigger recognition include:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation from family and friends
  • A flat affect or facial expressions
  • Ignoring personal hygiene
  • Inappropriate emotional reactions, such as crying for seemingly no reason
  • Strange speech patterns that may be difficult to understand or that seem irrational
  • Hostility and suspicion
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Forgetfulness and inability to concentrate

A person with schizoaffective disorder will also experience symptoms of bipolar disorder or depression, but again, these are not always easy to spot. Warning signs of mood disorders can come in many forms, but may include signs of mania:

  • Unusually high energy
  • A decreased need for sleep
  • Talking very rapidly
  • Getting distracted easily
  • Acting impulsively and recklessly
  • Extreme enthusiasm for projects or ideas

Some people struggling with schizoaffective disorder will not experience mania and instead go through symptoms of depression only. Some will cycle through mania and depression. Warning signs of major depression include:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Decreased interest in activities
  • Being withdrawn from family and friends
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Never having enough energy
  • Eating too much or not enough
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Talking about being worthless or unimportant

In general, it is important to make note of any unusual changes in someone’s behavior, as these can be signs of mental illness. Even if they do not seem like specific symptoms of a condition like schizoaffective disorder, any unexpected or strange changes in behavior are warning signs that something is not right. These warnings should be taken seriously so that a person struggling can get help as soon as possible.

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Complications


Schizoaffective disorder can also cause complications that are not categorized as symptoms of the disorder, but that may indicate that something is wrong. While not all of the symptoms are easy to spot, and individuals may go to lengths to hide the unusual thoughts or behaviors they are experiencing, it may be easier to note the resulting complications of this untreated mental health condition. Not everyone with the condition will experience these, but it is important to make note of the possibilities:

  • Substance abuse, either drugs or alcohol or both
  • Consequences of risky behaviors during a manic phase, such as overspending or having unprotected sex
  • Losing a job, struggling in school, or being kicked out of or dropping out of school
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Broken relationships, divorces, or family estrangement
  • Getting into legal trouble or even being incarcerated
  • Suicidal tendencies

Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder Based on Symptoms and Signs


There is no definitive schizoaffective disorder test, but a psychiatric evaluation is a useful tool to allow a mental health professional to make the most accurate diagnosis possible. A diagnosis should either be made or confirmed by a psychiatrist, and includes using observations, interviews, medical history, and personal history.

A diagnosis may be upsetting, but a schizoaffective disorder prognosis is mostly positive. Patients can expect that if they stick with a treatment plan, symptoms will likely begin to subside. Treatment plans usually include a combination of therapy and medications. Schizoaffective disorder medications include antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder is important in getting help for more affected people. This is a chronic and serious mental illness that does not get better without treatment, and treatment can only be administered with a professional and accurate diagnosis. The most important thing someone can recognize in a loved one who is struggling is that something just isn’t right and that he or she needs help. It is not essential to have expert-level knowledge of mental health, but to recognize and act on unusual behaviors can actually save lives.