Found mostly in women, schizoaffective disorder is a combination of major mental illnesses such as psychosis and mood disorders. This disorder is difficult to identify and is diagnosed when the person cannot be characterized under schizophrenia (psychosis) or manic depression (bipolar disorder).
The term Schizoaffective disorder was coined by Dr. Jacob Kasanin in 1933, and is a mental illness in which both the symptoms of psychosis (schizophrenia) as well as mood disorder (depressive or bipolar disorder) exist. This combination of symptoms makes it difficult to treat it.
Some experts believe that this disorder should not be treated distinctively as it is a case of schizophrenia along with a few mood disorders. Whereas, others say that it’s a separate disease with its own causes and symptoms and has to be treated accordingly.
Schizoaffective patients are seen to have periodic episodes or relapses when the symptoms surface. This illness is a life-long one, and if people suffering from this mental illness are not treated, they end up leading lonely lives, unable to handle their jobs and responsibilities.
Since diagnosing this disorder is really challenging, researchers have invested a lot of time and energy trying to find out its causes. They are sure that a genetic component is involved. This disorder can pass from parents to children. However, it is uncommon in the childhood stage and is predominant in early adulthood.
Relatives of sufferers are more likely to be affected by this disorder. When situations in life become demanding and difficult to handle, these patients lapse into periods of psychotic episodes. There is also evidence that states that environmental factors such as stress, viral infections, and poor social interactions can trigger this disorder in those people who have relatives who suffer from it.
What causes this illness is not exactly known. However, researchers believe that there is an involvement of brain chemistry. Dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters or chemicals that aid in the relay of electronic signals in the brain, thereby regulating the mood and behavior of a person. An imbalance of these two neurotransmitters in the brain can result in mood disorders and psychotic problems. Some experts believe that exposure to certain toxins and complications during birth can lead to such a disorder.
The symptoms of this disorder may vary from person to person. Some of the signs and symptoms of this illness are:
- Hallucinations (hearing voices)
- Delusions (such as believing a person on the television or radio is speaking to them directly, or finding secret message in common objects)
- Paranoid and unusual thoughts and ideas
- Irrelevant or incoherent speech (strange, peculiar, difficult to comprehend)
- Bouts of depression (Elevated, inflated, or depressed mood)
- Disorganized thinking (unclear and confused thought process)
- Poor temper control
- Suicidal and homicidal thoughts
- Deteriorating concern with respect to hygiene and grooming
- Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior: lack of response, responding at times in an extremely agitated manner without any cause
- Deficits in attention and memory
- Changes in energy and appetite patterns, sleep disorder (symptoms seen in case of depression)
For the treatment, various atypical and new generation drugs such as quetiapine (Seroquel), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and risperidone (Risperdal) are available. If the patient exhibits extreme agitation, then certain other anti-psychotic drugs such as haloperidol (Haldol) can be given as injections along with other medicines. Most of the treatment revolves around medicines that can calm the patient such as anti-psychotics, antidepressants, and mood-stabilizing medicines.
Psychotherapy and counseling helps a lot in such cases. Educating and proper explanations can help patients understand their condition better. Counseling can help them be hopeful about their future. Effective sessions on day-to-day problems and plans, building relationships, and so on can be helpful. Results are better and more effective when the families of the patients are involved in therapy. Being part of support groups can also help.
Schizoaffective disorder is characterized by psychotic symptoms as well as mood disorders. If you know any near or dear one who is suffering from this disorder, then do advice medical help. Patients with this disorder seldom agree to undergo medication, so, be very gentle while making the suggestion. Accompanying your friend or family member to the psychologist will also give the patient a lot of moral support.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.