Education and Understanding
An active and helpful support system for someone diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder plays a vital role and reducing the likelihood of recurring episodes. If you are supporting someone with schizoaffective disorder, educate yourself on the diagnosis and symptoms. Understand how the person with schizoaffective disorder is impacted and what symptoms they specifically experience when in an episodic condition. (1)
An overview of schizoaffective disorder is that it is primarily identified by symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinates and/or delusions and the presence of mood instability, mania, and/or depression. To further define, the person you are supporting may experience hearing things or seeing things that are not there, have false or fixed beliefs regardless of evidence to support the belief, and disorganized thinking; display or express feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, sadness, or worthlessness; Euphoria and racing thoughts and risk-taking behaviors are signs of manic symptoms. (1)
When you educate yourself, you can be more aware of the warning signs and early symptoms of the person you are supporting. Educating yourself also extends compassion to the person which aids communication and trust to help them get treatment or the crisis intervention they need. It will also give you the confidence you need to discuss problem areas and work towards positive outcomes.
Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment
There are a number of different types of treatment available for people with schizoaffective disorder. While the exact prevalence of the schizoaffective disorder is not known, it is estimated to affect about 0.3% of the population, or 1 in every 333 people. The majority of people with this illness are diagnosed in their late teens or early twenties, although onset can occur at any age. Men and women are affected equally by schizoaffective disorder.
The most common type of treatment is medication. antipsychotic medications can be effective in treating the symptoms of schizophrenia, and mood stabilizers or antidepressants can be helpful in managing the symptoms of a mood disorder. It’s important to work with a psychiatrist to find the right combination of medications and the proper mental health treatment.
It is important to keep an eye open for symptoms related to mental illness, schizoaffective disorder usually combines the symptoms of both depression and bipolar disorder. Some of them can be considered psychotic symptoms and can directly affect the person’s mood. Mood disorder symptoms are also characteristic of schizoaffective disorder, these can include depressive symptoms, anxiety, bipolar disorder symptoms, and others.
In addition to medication, psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for schizoaffective disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that has been shown to be helpful in treating this condition. CBT can help people with the schizoaffective disorder to manage their symptoms and improve their overall functioning.
Healthy communication and when to communicate are key. No one likes to argue or confront problems. Only by talking about the problems can the problems gain relief and resolution. It’s important to find times to talk, but the wrong time can cause defensiveness and criticism to bleed through, or worse, other maladaptive communications that can provoke rage or violence.
If you notice that when you approach a problem resolution conversation and the one you are supporting meets the conversation with anger, it is bad timing or a faulty approach and the plan of action may need to be re-evaluated. (2)
- Communication Tips:
- Active listening – People in general, regardless of mental health disorder, want to be heard and understood. Many times, a supporting person thinks providing solutions is helpful though it often makes the person feel stonewalled or feel as though they don’t have a voice. An active listener seeks to understand and remains curious. It is also paying close attention to what is being said. The listener repeats back what they hear so as to not have any misunderstandings or interpretations. Use of I statements such as “I feel” or “I think.” Keep conversations simple and focused on the point. Don’t argue, be encouraging, and use positive language instead of critiques.
- Acknowledgment and acceptance – challenging the person you are supporting with schizoaffective disorder or dismissing them or denying their perspective can cause more harm and stress. Acknowledge that they feel, believe, see, or hear what they are expressing without reinforcing or engaging in delusion or hallucination. Accept that what they are experiencing is real for them. Focus on how they are feeling instead of what they are experiencing.
- Remaining Calm – There may be times the person you are supporting with schizoaffective disorder becomes escalated with heightened energy. It is very important to remain calm and work towards a positive solution. Continue active listening, and don’t be afraid to request a break and return to the conversation at a better time. (2)
Maintaining a low-stress environment is important. Often stress or pressure in work and in relationships can trigger episodes of depression and/or mania or psychosis. Keeping a low-stress environment and positive self-care routine that includes regularly taking prescribed medications, attending to hygiene, exercise, and regular sleep and nutrition will lower the risk, and encourage this level of self-care.
- Navigating the community – The person you are supporting with schizoaffective may need added support in the community. Offer to attend appointments or activities with them if they are feeling anxious.
- Check-ins – Check in with them regularly and at a rate, they are comfortable with if you can’t be nearby. Sometimes a simple lighthearted chat is supportive enough.
- Decision-making – It sometimes can be difficult for them to be decisive. Support them in making decisions with guidance but encourage them to make their own decisions and avoid taking over the decision-making. Respect for their choices will support the relationship and their confidence.
- Boundaries – No limits and their limits and boundaries. Create opportunities for open and clear conversations.
Alternative support is necessary at times. When you are supporting someone with schizoaffective disorder and are aware of symptoms and triggers and have attempted conversations and management of the environment and it becomes too overwhelming, it’s ok to seek out help. Look at joining a support group (3). Individual and/or conjoint or family therapy can be extremely helpful in developing healthy communication styles.
For the person you are supporting, encourage a crisis plan. That can include a short-term crisis center and continued treatment at a mental health residential treatment center. The structure of a residential treatment setting can provide in-depth psychotherapy and psychotropic medication management to help create long-lasting and positive effects. (4)