Signs & Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of schizoaffective disorder. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn about schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition in which individuals suffer from symptoms that are synonymous with both schizophrenia and a mood disorder or bipolar disorder. More specifically, when mood disturbances are prominent, such that an individual experiences episodes of both severe depression and mania, as well as struggles with the onset of psychotic features, such as hallucinations and delusions, he or she is likely suffering schizoaffective disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that schizoaffective disorder is predominantly thought to lie between a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, as symptoms of both illnesses typically manifest. However, the presence of schizoaffective disorder can ultimately warrant an alternative diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

When individuals are suffering from schizoaffective disorder, their occupational or academic functioning is likely to be impaired, as is their ability to interact socially. Additionally, those suffering from this mental illness will often have difficulties with self-care and experience deficits in appropriate insight. Even seemingly mundane tasks, such as going to the grocery store or maintaining household responsibilities can seem overwhelming and often impossible to complete when an individual is suffering from schizoaffective disorder. Fortunately, there are viable treatment options available for schizoaffective disorder that can help individuals cope with the symptoms they experience and develop the tools they need to successfully live a full and productive life.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizoaffective disorder

While there is no single cause that has been identified as directly leading to the development of schizoaffective disorder, professionals in the field believe that there are a combination of factors that work together in eliciting its onset. Such factors are described in the following:

Genetic: Schizoaffective disorder is similar to other mental health conditions in that there lies a genetic component in its onset. When individuals have a first degree relative who is suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder, they are at a heightened risk for developing symptoms of the illness at some point in their lifetimes, as opposed to those who do not share similar family histories.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies have shown that individuals who have schizoaffective disorder have smaller brain volumes than do those individuals who do not suffer from this condition. Furthermore, there is said to exist actual structural differences in the brains of those with schizoaffective disorder. Additionally, research has concluded that people who have developmental delays are at a heightened risk for experiencing the onset of this disorder as well.

Environmental: As is true for the development of schizophrenia, researchers have discovered that being exposed to toxins or viruses while in utero can potentially lead to onset of schizoaffective disorder later in one’s life. Additionally, evidence has been provided that has shown that, when there exists complications during childbirth, the damage that can potentially result in one’s brain from those complications can lead to the eventual onset of schizoaffective disorder. The presence of other environmental factors, such as being the victim of chronic abuse and neglect, is also believed by some experts in the field to play a role in the onset of schizoaffective disorder as the result of the emotional turmoil that being subjected to such situations can elicit.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness (especially a history of schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, and/or bipolar disorder)
  • Personal history of preexisting mental illness
  • Use and abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Having experienced trauma
  • Having been exposed to toxins or viruses prenatally (including exposure to drugs and/or alcohol)
  • The presence of complications during childbirth

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder

The signs and symptoms that may infer that an individual is suffering from schizoaffective disorder will vary from person to person and, as a result of the fact that they often mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, careful attention must be given to exactly what signs are present so that an individual can receive an accurate diagnosis. The following are examples of signs and symptoms that may be exhibited by an individual who is suffering from schizoaffective disorder and warrant being reported to a mental health professional:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Impaired occupational functioning
  • Impaired social functioning
  • Disordered behaviors
  • Catatonic behaviors
  • Social isolation
  • Disorganized speech or the absence of speech entirely
  • Oscillating between slow and rapid movements
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Making attempts to end one’s life

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Flat affect
  • Changes in physical appearance (i.e. no longer caring how one looks)

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Racing thoughts
  • Paranoia
  • Impaired memory
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Experiencing difficulty with making plans
  • Lacking the ability to focus
  • Lacking proper insight

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Episodes of mania
  • Episodes of depression
  • Alternating between an extremely high or an extremely low self-esteem
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of schizoaffective disorder

When individuals have schizoaffective disorder and do not receive the appropriate treatment needed to relieve their symptoms, it is likely that they will suffer from any number of long-term effects. Examples of such effects may include:

  • Financial problems
  • Unemployment
  • Academic failure
  • Homelessness
  • Familial discord
  • Relationship disturbances
  • Developing an addiction to or dependence on substances
  • Prolonged engagement in self-harming behaviors
  • Significant health problems
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Early death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizoaffective disorder and co-occurring disorders

There are some instances in which individuals who are suffering from schizoaffective disorder will experience symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders

My severe depression had taken over my life. I’m so thankful for San Juan Capestrano Hospital for giving me the strength to start living my life again to the fullest.

– Luis S.