According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 20% of American adults live with a mental health disorder. Thanks to a growing emphasis on embracing mental health in the United States, there’s now less stigma around seeking treatment.
Schizoaffective disorder is particularly challenging because its symptoms come from at least two mental health disorders. The complexity of schizoaffective disorder makes it among the most commonly misdiagnosed mental health disorders in the United States.
People with this condition have an underlying mood disorder like manic depression or major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. Dealing with schizophrenic symptoms like auditory hallucinations, communication issues, and delusions is difficult enough. When combined with a mood disorder, however, getting proper treatment is even more challenging. This makes people with schizoaffective disorder disproportionately likely to deal with relationship problems, homelessness, unemployment, substance use disorder, social isolation, and suicidal ideation. People with schizoaffective disorder may also have problems with impulse control and engage in risky behaviors that result in incarceration, other legal troubles, and job loss.
Although these outcomes are undeniably grim, many people seek help for schizoaffective disorder and improve their lives. The symptoms might not disappear completely, but they’ll improve and become more manageable.
Treatment for this complex mental health disorder often involves medication and long-term therapy. If you’re living with schizoaffective disorder, finding a combination of medication that will work for you could take several months. Together with lifestyle changes like diet improvements and exercise regimens, managing your schizoaffective disorder is possible.
What Does Schizoaffective Disorder Therapy Consist Of?
Lifelong mental health therapy is essential for people with schizoaffective disorder. While schizoaffective disorder symptoms may improve for weeks or months at a time, discontinuing therapy or medication can directly cause severe symptoms to resurface.
When you seek help for schizoaffective disorder, mental health treatment providers and their physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, and case managers will develop long-term treatment plans with you. Sticking to your treatment plan is essential for achieving long-term recovery. Failing to stay true to this regimen of counseling appointments, medications, and group therapy sessions could make the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder worse.
There are several different types of mental health counseling you should be aware of:
- One-on-one counseling — also known as individual counseling, psychotherapy, or talk therapy — focuses on your personal issues and educates you about common characteristics of schizoaffective disorder and what you can do to handle the symptoms. Counselors will help you identify important life problems and provide you mental tools to resolve them. You will learn about triggers and how your mental state leads to unwanted schizoaffective disorder symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of individual counseling, is commonly employed by counselors to help people with schizoaffective disorder. CBT will help you address psychotic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations that medication may not help.
- Family and relationship counseling involves group therapy sessions with loved ones. Your counselor will inform your loved ones about your triggers and other problems that exacerbate your symptoms. This will lead to a discussion about healthy ways to help you cope with the condition. Although often overlooked, family and relationship counseling is ideal for people facing schizoaffective disorder because the condition is so commonly misunderstood. Due to this common misunderstanding, loved ones are prone to doing things that actively make your symptoms worse. Family members and other people who mean a lot to you may be reluctant to attend family and relationship counseling. Having your mental health provider reach out to them may help.
- Group therapy connects you with other people who also suffer from schizoaffective disorder. During sessions, you may learn alternative coping strategies and lifestyle changes that have helped others deal with their symptoms. You’ll also learn about problems that other people with schizoaffective disorder deal with. A counselor does not always facilitate group therapy. In many cases, group therapy takes the form of support groups. Your mental health provider will link you to local support groups and group therapy sessions. You may be able to find support groups for schizoaffective disorder online if you struggle to find any locally.
The Importance of Mental Health Therapy
Mental health counseling is proven to help people with schizoaffective disorder. However, the effectiveness of therapy sessions depends heavily on your relationship with your counselor or group session. It’s normal for people with mental health disorders to seek out other counselors or support groups that better fit their wants and needs. Your mental health provider should provide you with another counselor if you don’t like your current one. Counselors also understand the importance of finding the right fit and will not shame you for sharing this with them.
The effectiveness of therapy for schizoaffective disorder requires a correct diagnosis. Again, schizoaffective disorder is often misdiagnosed as a mood disorder at first. Seeking out a patient advocate or case manager may help you get a proper diagnosis.
In general, therapy for people with misdiagnosed schizoaffective disorder focuses on psychotic symptoms. These symptoms are considered more severe than underlying mood issues. To adequately address psychotic symptoms, however, symptoms of your mood disorder need to be addressed. Try informing your counselor of your mood disorder symptoms and reiterating how much they negatively affect your life. Seeking help from another counselor or physician may be your best course of action.
When properly diagnosed, therapists will address mood symptoms first. Therapists pursue this course of action because the symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression are typically easier to treat than psychosis. Even without a proper diagnosis, if you seek help for mood issues, your treatment provider will find it easier to prescribe alternative courses of action.
Another form of therapy you may need is life skills training. Since schizoaffective disorder often makes interacting with others, maintaining employment, and paying bills difficult, life skills training helps you address your most basic needs. Life skills training may be performed in an outpatient setting or a vocational rehabilitation center.
Common Medications for Schizoaffective Disorder
Two subtypes of schizoaffective disorder are currently recognized by the medical establishment: depressive and bipolar. If you have the depressive subtype, you go through stints of depression. The bipolar subtype involves manic episodes that may or may not be accompanied by depressive episodes.
Medications for schizoaffective disorder depend on the subtype you have. The vast majority of people with schizoaffective disorder are prescribed typical psychotics like haloperidol (Haldol), loxapine (Loxitane), thiothixene (Navane), and chlorpromazine (Thorazine). Also known as first-generation antipsychotic drugs, these medications are more reliable than their atypical counterparts. Atypical antipsychotics include aripiprazole (Abilify), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), and clozapine (Clozaril). Fewer side effects are associated with atypical antipsychotics, but they’re not as reliable as typical antipsychotics.
You may receive mood stabilizers like lithium if you’ve been diagnosed with the bipolar subtype. These drugs usually take weeks to work but are quite effective if taken daily. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to people with depressive schizoaffective disorder. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are affordable, effective medications prescribed to people with anxiety disorders and depression. These drugs work well for individuals with the depressive schizoaffective disorder subtype.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one drug for schizoaffective disorder, and it’s known as paliperidone (Invega). Often administered as a long-acting injection, Invega may be ideal for people who often suffer a relapse of symptoms or don’t like taking daily medications.
Life and Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder often affects all facets of life. The condition makes communication and addressing daily needs difficult. A counselor will equip you with tools for practicing self-care, an integral part of treating schizoaffective disorder. Here are some important lifestyle changes people with schizoaffective disorder should adopt:
- Stay on top of your triggers. Common triggers of schizoaffective disorder symptoms include stressful situations, busy schedules, adverse events, and fights with loved ones. Your triggers may differ, but that’s normal. Work with your counselor to identify triggers. You should avoid them if possible. Realistically, however, avoiding triggers might not be feasible. Simply knowing that a manic, depressive, or psychotic episode might arise will help you lighten the load of upcoming relapses.
- Work your support system. As someone with schizoaffective disorder, you may isolate yourself from other people. Even if you don’t want to talk to others, maintaining contact with members of your support system is essential for keeping schizoaffective disorder symptoms at bay. Ask friends if they want to hang out. Call your parents for help shopping or attending appointments. Your significant other might help you calm down after stressful events. Everybody’s support system is different, so it’s okay if yours differs from other people’s support systems.
- Establish a routine. You should know that routines aren’t a cure-all for schizoaffective disorder. However, if you establish and maintain a routine, your mood swings may not be as bad, and your symptoms should be easier to manage. Try preparing food for yourself more often and eat around the same times of day. Spend plenty of time sleeping at night. Track your symptoms and potential triggers with a journal.
Keep in mind that finding a combination of medications that works well for you may be difficult. You may go months before finding that perfect blend for your symptoms. Regularly attending therapy sessions will limit the detrimental effects of your symptoms.
At NFA Behavioral Health in Canterbury, New Hampshire, we treat schizoaffective disorder in our residential facility. A program will include attending 12-step meetings, going to group sessions, regularly speaking with a counselor, and adopting healthy holistic lifestyle changes. We also prescribe combinations of the drugs mentioned above, among others, to improve our patients’ symptoms.