Most people experience intrusive thoughts throughout their lives. Those with schizoaffective disorder, however, experience such thoughts, impulses, and moods in a much more profound and often volatile and violent way. While schizoaffective disorder is indeed difficult to cope with, there is hope for those with schizoaffective disorder, as there are multiple types of treatment that have generated positive results.
What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?
So, what exactly is schizoaffective disorder? With “schizo” as a part of the name, most people will make the leap to schizophrenia. While those with schizoaffective disorder (SZA) experience symptoms of schizophrenia, they also exhibit symptoms of mood disorders like bipolar disorder.
SZA occurs in about 1 in every 200 individuals and is somewhat more commonly diagnosed in women than in men. One of the most common comorbidities is substance abuse disorder. Fortunately, a combination of medication and therapy can be effective at creating an effective and sustainable way of managing SZA symptoms.
Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder
Symptoms of SZA tend to be a combination of symptoms commonly experienced in schizophrenia and mood disorders (especially bipolar disorder). Generally, SZA symptoms include:
- Hallucinations (both visual and auditory)
- Disorganized thinking (in other words, rapidly jumping between topics of conversation or answering in incoherent and unrelated statements)
- Mania (which includes racing thoughts, strong periods of elation, and performing increasingly risky behaviors)
- Depressed mood (includes feeling worthless or empty)
There are two types of SZA, bipolar type, and depressive type. Those with bipolar type experience manic symptoms and, potentially, symptoms of major depression. On the other hand, those with depressive type SZA will exclusively experience major depression symptoms without any signs of manic behavior.
Causes of Schizoaffective Disorder
Researchers do not yet know for certain exactly what causes schizoaffective disorder to occur. As of right now, one or a combination of the following factors might cause SZA:
- Neurological functions (especially cognitive abnormalities)
- Substance abuse
In many cases, SZA appears to have a genetic link, although SZA does not get passed on to each biological offspring. Multiple studies have linked folate deficiency with schizophrenia, and there have been further studies done linking the polymorphic mutation of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene to SZA, schizophrenia, and other mental and physical health issues.
If a genetic factor is present or there is some type of neurological abnormality that has gone undetected, chronic stress and/or substance abuse seem to somehow trigger symptoms of SZA. Again, scientists are not quite certain how these factors interact just yet.
Other Issues Related to Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder typically does not manifest in young children. However, those under 13 years of age can display symptoms that are often quite chronic. In this case, the earlier that proper treatment is administered, the better the outlook is for controlling the symptoms over the course of the individual’s lifetime.
It should be noted that there is a strong overlap between SZA, bipolar disorder, and autism. Research is starting to show a genetic link between these previously separated pathologies, and that these links come in the form of rare copy number variants (CNVs) and alleles. Studies are continuously trying to come up with a concrete explanation as to why this link between pathologies exists.
Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment Options
Treating schizoaffective disorder takes time and willpower. It also takes a tremendous outpouring of support from loved ones. At times, the individual with SZA might feel frustrated, even downtrodden and hopeless. However, there is plenty of research-based and anecdotal evidence to suggest that a combination of medication and therapy produce positive long-term effects. Therefore, it is crucial to be vigilant, persistent, and open-minded when it comes to treating SZA.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely-used forms of psychotherapy. It has been shown to work well at treating those with psychosis symptoms, such as the delusions and hallucinations experienced by those with SZA. CBT therapists help clients learn how to catch the thoughts that occur prior to and lead up to experienced emotions, reflect upon how realistic and helpful (or unrealistic and harmful, as the case may be) those thoughts are, and alter them to more helpful and accurate thoughts.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is another form of psychotherapy that is used to treat the psychosis symptoms of SZA. In ACT, the therapist helps the client be present and accepting of their actions and reactions, commit to selecting the direction they want to go in, and take action. This allows the client to demonstrate control over their thoughts, actions, and feelings. Those with SZA sometimes feel out-of-control over their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. As such, ACT is a powerful tool that has enabled numerous clients to experience a sustainable ability to cope with their symptoms.
Schizoaffective Disorder Examples in Pop Culture
Schizoaffective disorder has never truly been a trendy diagnosis, so it has managed to stay out of the limelight. However, there are some important but often overlooked examples of celebrities and pop culture icons who have dealt with SZA.
Chief among these examples is John Nash, the subject of the hit film A Beautiful Mind. Professor Nash was a brilliant mathematics professor who began exhibiting paranoid and erratic behavior while working as a professor in the 1950s. He was originally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was hospitalized. Throughout the course of his life, Nash promoted ideas of psychological and human diversity.
Another high-profile individual with SZA is Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys fame. Wilson experienced multiple nervous breakdowns during the 1960’s which actually involved delusions and hallucinations. He then went through several treatments and began working again in the 1990’s. Ever since, Wilson has continued to record and perform music as a part of his recovery journey.
Ending on a Positive Note
As Nash and Wilson remind us, there is reason to hope. Schizoaffective disorder is a serious and life-long condition, but it does not have to hold control over the reigns of your life. With the right type of therapeutic treatment backed by the support of loved ones, those with SZA can learn how to constructively cope with their symptoms.