Causes & Effects of Schizoaffective Disorder

No one experiences schizoaffective disorder the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of schizoaffective disorder is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn about schizoaffective disorder

When a person is experiencing both mood disturbances and psychosis, he or she may be suffering from schizoaffective disorder. Frequently misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, this mental health condition involves manic and depressive episodes in addition to the presence of psychotic features like delusions and hallucinations. Psychotic symptoms must occur in the absence of mood disturbances and the mania or depression must be pervasive throughout the duration of the illness.

Those with schizoaffective disorder often experience a great deal of disruption in their lives. Coping with mood disturbances and the additional distress of living with uncontrollable delusions or hallucinations can cause a great deal of turmoil within an individual. Even attempting to complete the most mundane of tasks, like going grocery shopping, can be exceedingly difficult when an individual can suddenly go from a manic state to experiencing auditory or visual hallucinations.

Because schizoaffective disorder’s symptoms overlap other mental illnesses, it is important to note any and all symptoms present so that an accurate diagnosis can be made. Going without treatment for Schizoaffective Disorder, or receiving inappropriate treatment due to misdiagnosis, can render a person susceptible to the devastating effects of this disorder. What is important to know is that there are effective treatment options available that can stabilize an individual’s mood, alleviate psychotic symptoms, and restore a person’s healthy, normal functioning.


Schizoaffective disorder statistics

Schizoaffective disorder is said to affect .03% of the general population with more women meeting criteria for this diagnosis than men. Sadly, due to the distressing and debilitating symptoms associated with this disorder, the suicide rate among those with this condition is estimated to be 5%.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizoaffective disorder

Without a single identifiable cause for schizoaffective disorder, mental health professionals agree that a number of factors working together lead to the development of this mental illness. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Like other mental illnesses, schizoaffective disorder is known to be inheritable when a family history of the disorder is present. Moreover, for those who have a family history of disorders involving psychosis and other mood disturbances, there is an increased risk of developing this mental health condition.

Physical: Through the use of neuroimaging, those with schizoaffective disorder were found to have decreased brain volume when compared to individuals without this mental illness. Additionally, it was found that when there is damage to the part of the brain that controls a person’s development, there is a greater chance for a person to display symptoms closely associated with schizoaffective disorder.

Environmental: Similar to the environmental factors that can lead to schizophrenia, experts have found that exposure to viruses and toxinsin utero can lead to the eventual onset of schizoaffective disorder. Furthermore, research has shown that complications during childbirth can cause damage to a person’s brain that could also bring about symptoms of this mental illness.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of schizoaffective disorder or other mental illnesses
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Substance use
  • Exposure to viruses or toxins pre-birth
  • Experiencing complications during childbirth

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder

In order to receive the most appropriate treatment for schizoaffective disorder, it is important to be able to identify any and all signs and symptoms that could be present. Because symptoms of schizoaffective disorder are similar to those found in other disorders, careful attention should be paid if any of the following symptoms are present. If any symptoms are present, report them to a mental health professional when discussing treatment options:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Impaired occupational functioning
  • Disordered behaviors
  • Catatonia
  • Mutism
  • Difficulty in social situations
  • Self-injury
  • Suicide attempts

Physical symptoms:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Flat affect

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to focus attention
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Anosognosia (poor insight)
  • Paranoia
  • Racing thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressive episodes
  • Anxiousness
  • Decrease in motivation
  • Extremely high or low self-esteem
  • Manic episodes
  • Suicidal thoughts


Effects of schizoaffective disorder

Seeking appropriate treatment is crucial so as to avoid the harmful effects associated with schizoaffective disorder. Some examples of possible effects can include:

  • Increased conflict within interpersonal relationships
  • Financial problems
  • Development of another mental illness
  • Substance use
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideations or attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

 Schizoaffective disorder and co-occurring disorders

Often times, those suffering from schizoaffective disorder are suffering from another mental illness at the same time. Below are mental health conditions that can exist alongside schizoaffective disorder:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use disorder
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My husband and I felt like we didn't know who our son was anymore because of how he was acting out at home and in school. After completing inpatient treatment at StoneCrest, he's stable, respectful, and the happy boy we knew him to be. Thank you StoneCrest!

– Parent of a former client
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