What Triggers Schizoaffective Disorder?

April 6, 2024

Schizoaffective Disorder is a mental health diagnosis that shares characteristics with Bipolar Disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder. It’s a mood disorder in which you may experience hallucinations (i.e., seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) and delusions (beliefs about your life that are unfounded in reality). Time Wellness Georgia, one of the best mental health treatment centers in Georgia, gives you more detail about this condition and explains what triggers schizoaffective disorder.

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective is an episodic mental health condition. This means that if you have Schizoaffective Disorder, you go through episodes of major depression as well as manic-like episodes. Schizoaffective disorder occurs due to:

  • exposure to either chronic stress or stressful life events
  • substance use disorders
  • the use of maladaptive coping strategies
  • social isolation
  • struggles in interpersonal relationships, which are generally hallmarks of the disorder

Schizoaffective Disorder is a complex disorder that is often hard to diagnose. Unlike other mental health diagnoses, the criteria for diagnosis in the DSM is unclear. It usually requires a certain degree of clinical judgment and can be easily diagnosed as depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. However, these would be misdiagnosed independently, as the patient would be missing some critical information about what’s happening.

Wy and Saadabadi (2023) propose that it’s best to think of schizoaffective disorder as a mental illness that exists on a spectrum alongside schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Being less categorical and seeing these disorders as overlapping points can make diagnosis easier. One of the challenges of diagnosing schizoaffective Disorder is that it can change over time, sometimes resembling schizophrenia and sometimes being more based on mood disorder. However, to qualify for the diagnosis, you must present symptoms of both to some degree.

Brown face figurine among flowers in a garden representing what triggers schizoaffective disorder
Schizoaffective disorder has many triggers.

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

The exact cause behind Schizoaffective Disorder is not yet fully understood. The consensus among professionals is that various factors or triggers may influence it. These include genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Its primary symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations, which can include auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile hallucinations
  • Delusions, which consist of fixed false beliefs
  • Disorganized thinking and behavior
  • Reduced emotional expression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Major depressive episodes
  • Experiencing manic episodes, which include little need for sleep, increased frantic activity, and nonstop thinking
  • Mixed episodes that include both manic and depressive features
  • Impairment functions in various areas of life (work, school, self-care, hygiene, household maintenance, and interpersonal relationships)
  • Some individuals experience periods of remission, while others experience some symptoms all the time

Types of Schizoaffective Disorder

There are two main subtypes of Schizoaffective Disorder:

  1. Bipolar type: An individual with schizoaffective Disorder may qualify for this subtype when manic or mixed (depressive and manic) episodes present alongside psychotic symptoms, such as delusions.
  2. Depressive type: Depressive episodes are the most frequent, and they occur alongside other psychotic symptoms. Manic or mixed episodes can be absent or very rare.

Schizoaffective Disorder is the cause of much suffering in the United States. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that around 0.3 men and women in the country experience this Disorder, though it is often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or bipolar Disorder.

If you suspect you or a loved one qualify for this diagnosis, seek help as soon as you can. Schizoaffective Treatment in Georgia is available at specialized treatment centers such as Time Wellness Georgia.

A woman with glasses yawning
Triggers for Schizoaffective Disorder include genetic, biological, and environmental triggers

Schizoaffective Disorder Triggers

A variety of factors can trigger manic, mixed, or depressive episodes. They include:

  1. Genetic triggers
  2. Brain chemistry and brain structure
  3. Environmental triggers
  4. Psychological triggers
  5. Substance use

#1 – Genetic Triggers

If you have a family history of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or both, your chances of getting Schizoaffective Disorder are significantly increased. Genetics can impact our brain makeup and make us more prone to all sorts of illnesses, including mental illness.

#2 – Brain Chemistry and Brain Structure

An imbalance in neurotransmitters is often behind Schizoaffective Disorder. Neurotransmitters are the messengers in the brain. Deficiencies in brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate can usually trigger Schizoaffective Disorder episodes.

#3 – Environmental Triggers

If an individual gets exposed to certain environmental factors during critical periods of brain development, they are more likely to qualify for a Schizoaffective Disorder diagnosis. These include:

  • Prenatal infections
  • Maternal stress during pregnancy
  • Early childhood trauma
  • Exposure to chronic stress or stressful events in life during critical periods of development

Stress can disrupt neurotransmitter function and contribute to changes in brain function

#4 – Psychological Triggers

If you are using maladaptive coping strategies, including maladaptive daydreaming, binge eating, gambling, or self-harm, this can trigger a Schizoaffective Disorder episode. Social isolation can be very dangerous for individuals with this diagnosis, as it can exacerbate hallucinations and delusions. Other difficulties in interpersonal relationships can also trigger the disorder.

#5 – Substance Use and Abuse

The use and abuse of certain substances can trigger Schizoaffective Disorder. This is especially the case when the substance is cannabis, cocaine, or amphetamines, as they can exacerbate existing symptoms or even bring them to the surface if they weren’t there before. Substance Use in the case of Schizoaffective Disorder is often part of a vicious cycle. The individual frequently experiences early childhood trauma, which usually drives them to use substances like the ones described. Then, the individual is hooked.

If this is happening to you, early intervention is critical. Georgia Mental Health Services includes medication management and supportive therapies that can help you nip your addictions in the bud.

Two people holding hands
There are options for supportive treatment in Georgia if something has triggered Schizoaffective Disorder

Treatment and Management for Schizoaffective Disorder

So you’ve got your diagnosis, and you’ve decided to commit to a treatment option. What’s next? There is no single treatment that is considered the gold standard for Schizoaffective Disorder. Generally, you can get holistic treatment, including:

  1. Medication management
  2. Individual therapy
  3. Group therapy
  4. Family therapy
  5. Skills education
  6. Art and music therapy

People with this Disorder are usually advised to pick up hobbies like yoga or art so they have access to safe coping skills.

Medication Management

If you don’t already have a diagnosis, a psychiatrist will first assess you and make the appropriate diagnosis. As Schizoaffective Disorder exists in a spectrum, you may look into schizophrenia treatment centers in Georgia and end up being diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. Even though schizophrenia and all related diagnoses may sound scary at first, try to look at it from a logical perspective. Diagnoses, if they are correct, are always a blessing, as they provide valuable information and insight about you and why you may have the struggles you have.

Then, you and your psychiatrist will discuss what medication suits you and your symptoms better. The medication administered for this diagnosis is generally a combination of mood stabilizers and antipsychotics, and sometimes antidepressants as well. No two bodies react the same to the same drug, so there may be some trial and error here. As with all psychiatric medication, it’s usually not enough on its own.

You will need to complement medication management with some scientifically proven therapy and some skills training. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, at our Atlanta mental health center, you will be considered for:

Partial hospitalization means you don’t live in the facilities but still spend a lot of hours there while you complete a course of treatment. “IOP” means Intensive Outpatient Program and may involve more hours than the outpatient option while still not requiring you to be in the facilities full-time. Outpatient programs are recommended only when the severity of your symptoms is very low, or you have already completed a more intensive course of treatment and want to keep your symptoms in check.

Individual Therapy

Once you have the correct diagnosis and are taking the medications prescribed by your psychiatrist, you will start a course of individual therapy. You and a qualified therapist will spend some time one-on-one trying to get to the root of your problem and managing stressors. During Individual Therapy, you will also be educated about your diagnosis and what strategies work best to keep your symptoms in check.

Some scientifically proven treatments for individual therapies include CBT, DBT, and trauma-informed therapy. CBT will help you identify your negative thought patterns and change them. DBT integrates components of CBT with mindfulness techniques to regulate your emotions and improve your interpersonal skills, as well as ease black-and-white thinking. Trauma-informed therapy is recommended when you have experienced severe trauma and have a dual diagnosis. You may have not only Schizoaffective Disorder but also PTSD or CPTSD. Trauma is a delicate issue to treat in therapy. This is why some therapists specialize in trauma and can help you take baby steps to recover from it.

Group Therapy

Schizoaffective Disorder and schizophrenia are currently stigmatized in society. This is primarily because of a lack of information and representation. Group therapy can help you understand that you are not alone. A lot of people, just like you, suffer from similar difficulties and have the same triggers around their Disorder. Group therapy helps speed up recovery by helping you identify your negative patterns in peers and see what advice they get to overcome their problems. It also gives you a sense of community and makes you feel less isolated and alone.

Family Therapy

Some family dynamics may be triggering your Schizoaffective Disorder. During family therapy, you and your family members can work as a team to help you feel better. With the help of professionals acting as mediators, you will understand why your family members act the way they act or think the way they think. They will also educate your family about your triggers and the characteristics of Schizoaffective Disorder so they can accommodate their behavior around you.

Life Skills Training

People who have Schizoaffective Disorder often have interpersonal problems because of their mood swings and delusions. Some may end up becoming paranoid and mistrustful because of their delusions and hallucinations. Some may have cognitive issues because of their psychotic symptoms. Life Skills Training will help you develop better strategies to avoid interpersonal conflict and recover from cognitive impairment. It will give you skills to stay employed or schooled and take better care of yourself.

Art and Music Therapy

The arts may provide you with a healthier way to channel delusions and hallucinations. Individuals with Schizoaffective Disorder may be highly imaginative. They also have a heightened sensitivity, which some artists consider a gift. Art can be a safe window into your subconscious mind, especially in therapeutic settings. It can help you work through past trauma while avoiding schizoaffective disorder triggers, so you can gradually become acquainted with the issues that drove you to have the disorder in the first place and find some way to give it another meaning or tell your story in your own way. Thus, you will feel more in charge of your life story than a powerless, voiceless victim.

Drawing of a head with arrows going out of it in different directions representing what triggers schizoaffective disorder
Different therapy approaches can help you understand what triggers schizoaffective disorder and learn to manage it.

Learn How to Manage Schizoaffective Disorder with Time Wellness Georgia

Schizoaffective disorder is challenging to diagnose because of its similarities with other diagnoses. However, not getting the correct diagnosis can make the patient feel like they don’t have access to the complete picture of what’s happening to them. Some people with schizoaffective disorder have periods of remission, while others may have to manage severe symptoms permanently. Either way, Schizoaffective Disorder is far from a hopeless case. The medical community is taking steps in the right direction to diagnose this disorder correctly and educate patients and their families. With the proper medication, therapy, and life skills training, you can be a functional adult and find ways to challenge your pain and confront your traumatic past.

If you live in Georgia and suspect you or a loved one has Schizoaffective Disorder, take early action to avoid suffering. Reach out to Time Wellness Georgia and start your journey to recovery.