Schizo-affective disorder is a condition in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms — such as hallucinations or delusions — and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression. Schizo-affective disorder is not as well understood or well defined as other mental health conditions. This is largely because schizo affective disorder is a mix of mental health conditions ― including schizophrenic and mood disorder features ― that may run a unique course in each affected person. Untreated, people with schizo-affective disorder may lead lonely lives and have trouble holding down a job or attending school. Or, they may rely heavily on family or live in supported living environments, such as group homes. Treatment can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with schizo affective disorder.
Schizo-affective disorder symptoms vary from person to person. People who have the condition experience psychotic symptoms — such as hallucinations or delusions — as well as a mood disorder. The mood disorder is either bipolar disorder (bipolar-type schizo-affective disorder) or depression (depressive-type schizo-affective disorder).
Psychotic features and mood disturbances may occur at the same time or may appear on and off interchangeably. The course of schizo-affective disorder usually features cycles of severe symptoms followed by a period of improvement, with less severe symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of schizo-affective disorder may include, among others:
- Delusions — having false, fixed beliefs
- Hallucinations, such as hearing voices
- Major depressed mood episodes
- Possible periods of manic mood or a sudden increase in energy and behavioral displays that are out of character
- Impaired occupational and social functioning
- Problems with cleanliness and physical appearance
- Paranoid thoughts and ideas
When to see a doctorIf you think someone you know may have schizo-affective disorder symptoms, talk to that person about your concerns. Although you can't force someone to seek professional help, you can offer encouragement and support and help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider.
Expression of suicidal thoughts or behavior may occur in someone with schizo-affective disorder. If you have a loved one who is in danger of committing suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.
The exact cause of schizo-affective disorder is not known. A combination of factors may contribute to its development, such as:
- Genetic links
- Brain chemistry
- Brain development delays or variations
- Exposure in the womb to toxins or viral illness, or even birth complications