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Separating Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder

Many people may not realize that schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are actually two separate conditions. Given both the similarities between the diagnoses and the overlapping symptoms shared by the disorders, it’s easy to understand why there may be some confusion. In addition, they are often lumped together in popular culture while frequently being sensationalized or misrepresented for dramatic effect. 

In order for treatment to be successful, however, it is necessary that the difference between these disorders is understood and how they actually affect the individual with the disorder. Both require different forms of care, support, and treatment. 

By understanding the differences between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, healthcare professionals and family caregivers can better support those living with a diagnosis and help fight the stigma surrounding both disorders. 

How are Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder Different?

While some of the distinctions may seem subtle, there are many key differences between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder that significantly change the lived experiences of individuals diagnosed with either disorder. Schizoaffective disorder, for example, has a much more pronounced impact on an individual’s moods and is often characterized by a co-occurring bipolar or depressive mood disorder. 

Schizophrenia, on the other hand, while often accompanied by occasional manic or depressive episodes, is more commonly characterized by the way it affects perception. Schizophrenia is known for causing hallucinations and delusions that a person cannot distinguish from reality. At the same time, schizoaffective disorder is more likely to make a person feel detached from reality, although hallucinations or delusions may occur occasionally. 

The dominant features of the disorder are what separate schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Hallucinatory, delusional, and psychotic symptoms are considered the dominant features of schizophrenia, while mood-related symptoms are the dominant features of schizoaffective disorder, although episodes of psychosis can still occur. Psychotic features are typically less severe in schizoaffective disorder.

How Treatment is Different for Each Diagnosis

Treatment plans are determined by a variety of factors, including intensity and duration of symptoms as well as what works best for the individual involved. Having an accurate diagnosis and knowing which specific features of a disorder are predominant helps case managers and other mental healthcare professionals focus attention on the areas that most urgently need care in order to deliver the most effective treatment possible. It also gives families and loved ones a peace of mind and helps them know what to expect at home.

This is why the difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder is such a vital distinction. Both disorders require unique approaches to treatment, including different kinds of therapy and different antipsychotic medications. Schizoaffective disorder typically responds more readily to therapy. So treatment plans may be based around a more intensive therapy program, whereas with schizophrenia getting more intense psychotic symptoms under control with medication is necessary first. 

Since treatment for both disorders typically requires a combination of medication and therapy, the key is in finding the right balance and approach. Every individual is unique and requires truly personalized care.

What Causes Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder?

Despite decades of study and research, there is no clear answer for what causes schizophrenia. Experts believe a combination of genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain, and environmental factors in early childhood play a role. Having one or more relatives with schizophrenia dramatically increases one’s chances of being diagnosed.

Schizoaffective disorder is somewhat more well understood. While there are likely other genetic and chemical factors at play, experts believe the genes that govern the body’s sleep and wake cycles are at least partially responsible, based on research.

Life Adjustment Team Can Help

Case management resources make a vital difference in treating both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. At Life Adjustment Team, we understand the importance of individualized care, and our focus is on helping every individual achieve the highest level of wellness, independence, and functional capability possible. 

Our clinicians’ model of assertive community treatment is designed to reach clients who have had trouble responding to traditional forms of outpatient treatment in the past. By bringing personalized care to our clients, both in the home and in the community, we provide a cost-effective alternative to lengthy and expensive inpatient stays.

Contact a member of our clinical team to get started on your journey towards recovery today!