Abnormal Psychology: “What is Schizoaffective Disorder?” and How We Can Obliterate that Question

Abnormal Psychology: “What is Schizoaffective Disorder?” and How We Can Obliterate that Question 

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression.” 1 in every 200 people develops schizoaffective disorder at some point in their life, especially in one’s late teen/young adult years.

Because of its overlap in symptoms and characteristics to prominent psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder not only neglected in terms of psychiatric research, but is also often misdiagnosed for its more prevalent counterparts, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

There are two main types of schizoaffective disorder: bipolar and depressive

bipolar type schizoaffective disorder: characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia and then bipolar disorder (either type).

depressive type schizoaffective disorder: characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia and then major depressive disorder.

What Are the Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder?*

In order to understand the characteristics of schizoaffective disorder, one must be familiar with the origins and traits of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Due to its similarity to both of these conditions, individuals with schizoaffective disorder exhibit symptoms seem in both or either of the psychiatric symptom pools.

Like with other mental illnesses, the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can vary greatly from person to person. The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may include symptoms of:


  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping very little or a lot)
  • Agitation (being very restless)
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Guilt or self-blame
  • Trouble with thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


  • Being more active than usual, including at work, in your social life, or sexually
  • Talking more or faster
  • Rapid or racing thoughts
  • Little need for sleep
  • Agitation
  • Being full of yourself
  • Being easily distracted
  • Self-destructive or dangerous behavior (such as going on spending sprees, driving recklessly, or having risky sex)


  • Delusions (strange beliefs that the person refuses to give up, even when they get the facts)
  • Hallucinations (sensing things that aren’t real, such as hearing voices)
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Odd or unusual behavior
  • Slow movements or not moving at all
  • Lack of emotion in facial expression and speech
  • Poor motivation
  • Problems with speech and communication

*Taken directly from:

What Are the Causes of Schizoaffective Disorder?

The causes of schizoaffective disorder are unknown. Due to its similarities to schizophrenia, many scientists believe that they have similar origins biologically. Research has suggested that like schizophrenia, some biological causes for schizoaffective disorder are based on genetic heredity, as well as chemical imbalances, specifically the underproduction of the neurotransmitter, dopamine.

Researchers have also worked on creating a link between schizoaffective disorder and drug use; while this is not a confirmed connection, many believe that there is a link of psychotic illnesses and marijuana use, especially when the cannabinoid, THC, is of a higher concentration. Excessive alcohol consumption has also been acknowledged as a possible catalyst towards the development of schizoaffective disorder in individuals with the genetic predisposition for the condition.

What are Treatment Options for Individuals with Schizoaffective Disorder?

Like with many mental illnesses, schizoaffective disorder doesn’t have a cure, but it does have many treatment options and combinations. Generally, individuals with schizoaffective can utilize medications, psychotherapy, and general life-skills training, as forms of treatment. In extreme cases, such as during uncontrollable episodes or when the standard treatment plans don’t work, hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy are other alternatives as well.


  • Antipsychotics. The only medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration specifically for the treatment of schizoaffective disorder is the antipsychotic drug paliperidone (Invega). However, doctors may prescribe other antipsychotic drugs to help manage psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.
  • Mood-stabilizing medications. When the schizoaffective disorder is bipolar type, mood stabilizers can help level out the mania highs and depression lows.
  • Antidepressants. When depression is the underlying mood disorder, antidepressants can help manage feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or difficulty with sleep and concentration.


  • Individual therapy. Psychotherapy may help to normalize thought patterns and reduce symptoms. Building a trusting relationship in therapy can help people with schizoaffective disorder better understand their condition and learn to manage symptoms. Effective sessions focus on real-life plans, problems and relationships.
  • Family or group therapy. Treatment can be more effective when people with schizoaffective disorder are able to discuss their real-life problems with others. Supportive group settings can also help decrease social isolation and provide a reality check during periods of psychosis.

Life Skills Training

  • Social skills training. This focuses on improving communication and social interactions and improving the ability to participate in daily activities. New skills and behaviors specific to settings such as the home or workplace can be practiced.
  • Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment. This focuses on helping people with schizoaffective disorder prepare for, find and keep jobs.*

*Taken directly from:


What is Life Like with Schizoaffective Disorder?



Aside from learning about the different kinds of psychological disorders that compose the world of mental health, Global Online Academy’s Abnormal Psychology course also incorporates activism for mental health awareness and the overall destigmatization of mental illnesses.

As we have moved through the course, it has become clear that a lot of our interpretations of what truly is “abnormal” solely depend on the society and culture we were brought up on. For my catalyst project, I am hoping to further educate and inform our GOA community on other aspects of the mental health sphere that we may not have necessarily covered in our course.

Schizoaffective disorder, a chronic combination psychotic-mood disorder, is underrepresented in mental health awareness and research. Through this catalyst project, I am hoping to not only introduce another aspect of mental illness, but also to encourage the viewer to think actively about the information they’re reading. In addition, I am hoping that this presentation will also act as a grassroots start of a larger-scale movement that advocates for increased representation and prioritization of mental illnesses on a research and advocacy level.

By encouraging the spread of awareness and the invalidation of stigmas against schizoaffective disorder, I hope that we can progress towards not only less future misdiagnoses of schizoaffective disorder, but also progress towards more effective treatments, and hopefully, a cure for this psychotic-mood disorder.


With my project, the main goal is to raise awareness and stop the stigmatization of mental illnesses. Schizoaffective disorder is just one types of conditions that affect individuals all over the world; however, like many other aspects of the mental health world, it has lost its image of importance, due to stigmatization or a lack of understanding of how legitimate and crippling such conditions are. Be the change you want to see in the world around you; educate yourself and spread the wealth of knowledge with your community.


Take this poll!


To what extent did you know about schizoaffective disorder? What was your view on mental health prior to this project?

I’ve never heard of this psychiatric condition or any of the similar conditions it is related to; this presentation was my first exposure to schizoaffective disorder as a whole. I initially had viewed those with mental illness as too incompetent and unstable to live with the remainder of society, but this presentation has given me a positive outlook on living a happy life with a mental illness.
I’ve heard of psychotic and mood disorders, with schizoaffective disorder looking familiar; however, this presentation really informed me about schizoaffective disorder and made me realize that individuals with this condition, if properly treated, can live successful lives.
I had some knowledge about schizoaffective disorder prior to this presentation, however this presentation has helped me gain a better understanding of how underrepresented schizoaffective disorder is. I’ve thought about ways to initiate activism against mental health stigmatization.
I recognized every bit of information I saw in this presentation about schizoaffective disorder, and I also have already made progress in combatting mental health stigmatization.


Thank you for viewing my project! Please a take a moment to comment and give feedback on what you felt was effective in bringing awareness and a change of perspective for you! Please give your feedback by filling in the blanks for these three question prompts: “What if….? How might we….? I wonder…..?”

Aside from my project, I’ve started a collaborative mental health initiative titled, “A Minute for Mental Health.” Through educational presentations at assemblies about mental health, empathy, and compassion, as well as fundraising events and overall group discussions, this club is my school’s version of a grassroots movement towards becoming a more empathetic, informed, and accepting community. While this initiative doesn’t solely focus on schizoaffective disorder, many are uninformed about how prevalent mental health differences are worldwide, and so overall education is the priority of this initiative.

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