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What They Need to Really Teach in Medical School About Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder tends to be a lesser-known form of schizophrenia. The difference between the two illnesses is that schizoaffective disorder combines schizophrenia with either bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.

As someone in the mental health field, I barely learned anything about schizophrenia during my schooling, and I never heard of schizoaffective disorder until I was diagnosed with it. 

In my opinion, schizoaffective disorder needs to be talked about in medical school more than it already is; in many cases, it is either skimmed over or not talked about at all. There is such a stigma following schizophrenia and what it looks like, and individuals in medical school need to learn that there isn‘t just one face to these illnesses.

As someone with schizoaffective disorder, I would want individuals in medical school to learn that I don’t always experience psychosis and that major depression plays a big part in my symptoms. While I do experience hearing voices, seeing dark figures, and seeing and feeling bugs crawling on me, I also experience problems communicating, disorganized thinking, and an inability to correctly perform certain routine daily activities. Psychosis is a big part of my disorder, but so are my mood disorder symptoms and problems with my thinking patterns. I would advise individuals in medical school to learn more about schizoaffective disorder aside from the psychosis to try and break the stigma and stereotypes that follow schizophrenia.

It is the stereotype of the “bizarre person who sees things” that is so harmful to those who have schizophrenia or any of its subtypes. Experiencing psychosis can be so scary, but this isn’t always the case either. Sometimes the hallucinations I experience can be comforting, and sometimes I miss the voices when my medication is correctly targeting my symptoms. Psychosis shouldn’t be taught as something that is always scary or “bad” because those of us with schizoaffective disorder don’t always see our symptoms in a negative light. The media has negatively portrayed schizophrenia for so long that it has negatively impacted how students in the medical field learn about the illness, as well as their viewpoint on what someone with schizophrenia “should look like.”

Another important point that should be made in medical school is that many individuals with schizophrenia are “high functioning,” and while the illness can be debilitating, the illness affects each person differently. I often find that because an individual is high-functioning, many doctors won’t agree with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or its subtypes, and this is a great disservice to those who may be struggling.

While education on this disorder needs to improve in the medical field, I think that it also needs to improve in the helping fields. Therapists, social workers, and the like deserve to have more education on these serious illnesses that affect so many people. I was dismayed by the little information I received on various serious mental illnesses during my training, and it took me pursuing my own education on these illnesses to be able to adequately help others. Without my self-education, I don’t think that I would be in a position to properly educate others on the illnesses, while also helping individuals with these serious illnesses.

Overall, schizoaffective disorder needs to be taught more in-depth in medical school and the helping fields, as well as schizophrenia and its other subtypes. Not enough education is given to those pursuing a career in the medical or helping fields, and this can lead to malpractice in various areas. The medical and helping fields need to do better. More education can lead to saving more lives.

Getty Images photo via gremlin

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