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Schizophrenia Vs. Schizoaffective Disorder: What's the Difference?

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Schizophrenia is a severe, debilitating mental illness. It has been popularized by the media, particularly in horror and thriller movies and television shows, and there are certain stereotypes that follow those who are affected by this disorder. What many people do not know is schizophrenia is a spectrum disorder under which many other disorders fall, including but not limited to: schizotypal personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizophreniform disorder, and schizophrenia.

I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder about a year ago, but I have dealt with its symptoms for the majority of my life. Receiving this diagnosis was confusing and life changing for me, because like many others, I viewed schizophrenia as how the media portrays it, which is rarely, if ever, accurate. Each person’s experience with schizophrenia is different, and when evaluated, individuals will fall somewhere on the spectrum.

My experience with schizoaffective disorder is firsthand, and I do not have firsthand experience in the other disorders on the spectrum. I can only speak from my personal experience, and I want to emphasize all forms of schizophrenia are entirely independent to each person. My experience with the disorder should in no way be used to stereotype schizoaffective disorder, but to bring a new line of conversation to the illness.

The main symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinating, experiencing delusions, and/or disorganized speech/behavior.  To qualify for a diagnosis of schizophrenia, one must have two of the above listed symptoms, along with a lowered ability to function in daily life. Schizoaffective differs only in the way that a mood disorder must also be present, and an individual must first and foremost be struggling with depression, mania, and/or hypomania, followed by two of the above symptoms of schizophrenia. In schizoaffective disorder, the mood disorder is at the forefront of the illness, and hallucinating, experiencing delusions, and/or having disorganized speech or behaviors follow closely behind.

I have the depressive form of schizoaffective disorder in that I rarely experience manic episodes, but major depression is my main concern. I experience hallucinations and disorganized speech just about every day, but they have lessened with medication. I still, however, struggle with extreme depression regularly. This paired with my hallucinations and disorganized speech, with occasional delusions, makes it hard to predict how I will be able to function day to day. I am still seeking disability because of my negative symptoms which worsen with stress, and my inability to maintain a set schedule due to the unpredictability of my symptoms.

But, along this journey, I have discovered there is a certain way individuals expect those of us with schizophrenia to act. Even though there are varying degrees of severity as well as varying subtypes, the stereotypes surrounding schizophrenia negatively impact those of us who don’t “fit the bill.” I hope sharing my story will add to the truth of what schizophrenia really is and debunk some of the stereotypes circulating in the general public.

While the mood disorder of schizoaffective disorder is the main differentiating factor between it and the other forms of schizophrenia, it will present in various levels of severity from person to person, and no experience should be deemed invalid. Schizophrenia is an incredibly diverse mental illness, and the more empathy and compassion we can extend to those impacted by the disorder, the more we can provide education while breaking the stigma.

Those of us with any form of schizophrenia deserve to be heard and loved, and my passion is to ensure we are all heard with compassion and at least some understanding. My hope is I have helped you gain more insight into the ways schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia vary, but are also connected, and that any stereotypes you might hold are challenged.

Getty image by triloks

Originally published: October 3, 2021
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