A mental disorder which often preludes a more severe disorder called Bipolar disorder, with almost similar symptoms which occur in early adulthood is termed as Schizoaffective Disorder. Some doctors add schizoaffective disorder as part of schizophrenia and not as a separate illness. Symptoms include recurring episodes of mood swings, an elevated or a depressed mood that may appear alternately, or coexist along with failure for cognitive recognition and normal perception. Hallucinations, bizarre delusions, fear and dreadful dreams, hearing voices and sounds, slurred and distorted speech and thinking abilities are common symptoms that could be observed in those diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
How is schizoaffective disorder diagnosed?
No laboratory tools are available for the diagnosis, and it is totally based on the (self-reported) experiences of the patient suffering from the mood swings and other symptoms. The self-assessment reports are often substantiated from the information gathered from parents, siblings, peers and friends. Before a diagnosis is given, the doctor will do a complete history and physical to rule out any metabolic disturbances which could manifest similar psychological symptoms. Tests would help to rule out thyroid, electrolyte and other types of abnormalities within the body. Other tests such as a CT scan and EEG may be ordered to exclude physical conditions such as epilepsy and delirium due to some sort of brain damage.
What causes schizoaffective disorder?
The possible causes have been rooted to many departments of study, including genetics, social environment during childhood, neurology and psychiatry. Fortunately, schizoaffective disorder can be successfully treated, under the guidance of a psychiatrist, with antipsychotic medication, mood stabilizers, sedatives and antidepressants. Unfortunately, there are instances of prolonged suffering when these symptoms are not reported to a medical or mental health practitioner. Schizoaffective disorder may not be recognized right away if the patient has progressed to a more significant bipolar disorder.
It is often difficult to correctly diagnose an individual with schizoaffective disorder due to the symptomatic similarity between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Proper diagnosis requires extended periods of careful monitoring and observation of the patient, reported to be suffering from episodes of mood swings, psychosis – which includes visual and auditory hallucinations – and suicidal tendencies.
Addictive behaviors associated with schizoaffective disorder
Drug abuse is often observed to be one of the major causes that induce schizoaffective disorders. Aside from prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medications, drug abuse can also include cannabis (marijuana) or opium based alkaloids, such as cocaine and crack. Individuals engaging in drug abuse may have temporary adverse effects from those substances to increase complications associated with their mental conditions. In addition to intentional drug abuse, there are possibilities of drug interactions from self-medicating without the knowledge of the attending psychiatrist.
It can be very difficult for an individual with schizoaffective disorder to attend social gatherings or to hold down a job due to attacks of mood swings and (sometimes) violent behavior. Oftentimes, people suffering from schizoaffective disorder will indulge in self-destructive manic behavior; such behaviors may include overspending and indulging in unprotected sex. Suicide attempts are quite common due to episodes of prolonged depression. Thoughts of suicide can be prevented with adequate protection with medication, counseling, and hospitalization – if the psychiatrist deems it necessary. The good news is that people with this disorder need not suffer in silence. Schizoaffective disorder can be successfully controlled when treated properly.
Author’s note: A member of my family was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder along with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. For many years she took a pharmacy full of pills every day. Today she is managed with just two medications and she is able to live a very fulfilled life.