Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

February 16, 2018

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Close-up image of stressed man's face.

Schizoaffective disorder is a serious and puzzling brain disorder. It combines symptoms of 2 other serious disorders—bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The symptoms are often severe and ongoing. They can disrupt lives and cause great emotional pain for both the person with the condition and his or her family and friends. But there is reason for hope. Talk with your healthcare provider or mental health professional.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can vary greatly. People with this disorder may see or hear things that aren’t there (hallucinations). Or they may hold false, fixed beliefs (delusions). These can occur without any mood changes. At times, people with this disorder may seem withdrawn, listless, and remote. They may also have extreme mood swings. They may feel intensely happy for a time. Later, they may be very depressed. In some cases, they might have only lows without the highs. They might also have problems with sleep or a change in appetite. They may become more or less talkative, lose focus in their thinking, or even think about suicide.

What causes it?

The causes of schizoaffective disorder aren’t fully understood. It is known that this disorder runs in families. Certain chemicals in the brain also play a role. In some people, abuse, neglect, or a major trauma may trigger the disorder.

Finding help

Right now there is no cure. But treatment with medicines and therapy may be helpful. There are also many support services for people with schizoaffective disorders and their families.


Medicines may relieve many symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. These may include antipsychotic medicines, antidepressant medicines, or mood stabilizers. If your loved one is troubled by medicine side effects, tell his or her healthcare provider. Changing the dose or type of medicine may help. Encourage your loved one to keep taking his or her medicines. Not taking them may cause symptoms to come back.

Supportive therapy

A therapist (counselor) can offer your loved one advice and support. Social workers may help with work, money, or housing issues. Friends and family members may also need support. Learning more about schizoaffective disorder can help you cope. To learn how best to help with your loved one’s care, ask your mental healthcare providers for reliable community or online patient and family resources. 


February 16, 2018


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 2013; 5th ed., Schizophrenia in adults: Clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis. UpToDate.

Reviewed By:  

Ballas, Paul, DO,Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN,Image Reviewed by Staywell medical art team.