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Schizoaffective disorder is sometimes described as a "close cousin" of schizophrenia. Some people who have schizoaffective disorders can lead nearly-normal lives, but some fall into dark, deadly insanity.

In April of 2007, a Virginia Tech student killed 37 and wounded 12 other students in a shooting rampage.

In January of 2011, Americans were horrified to learn of the shooting of House of Representatives member Gabrielle Giffords, and the deaths of six of her constituents, including a nine-year-old child. 

In April of 2012, the news came that a former neuropsychiatry student had shot 70 people, killing 12 of them, at a screening of Batman film The Dark Knight Rises in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

In December of 2012, the news was that a distraught young man had murdered his mother and then 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, before killing himself.

Before and after these horrific events, there have been dozens of other reports of train station shovings, knifings, decapitations, and cannibalism in the United States and in other countries around the world. A common denominator of most of these events has been that the perpetrators of these horrific crimes have been mentally ill, usually with a schizoaffective disorder. Not all mass murders are committed by people who have schizoaffective disorders, however, and not everyone who suffers this psychiatric condition falls into the darkness of insanity.

What Is A Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a perplexing mental illness that takes on some of the characteristics of schizophrenia and some of the characteristics of a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder. Like schizophrenics, people who have schizoaffective disorder may have distorted thinking, harbor delusions, or experience hallucinations. Like people who have bipolar disorder, they may become extremely depressed, or hyperactive in a manic state.

The DSM-5 sets specific criteria for a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder:

  • The individual must experience delusions (irrational ideas not abandoned when challenged with facts) or hallucinations (sensations of things that are not objectively there) for at least 2 weeks at some point in the course of the illness, when not experiencing depression or mania.
  • The individual must experience delusions or hallucinations, that is, meet the definitions of schizophrenia, during depression or mania.
  • The individual must experience depression or mania through the majority of the course of the illness.

The mood disorder may be bipolar (both depressive and manic episodes) or unipolar (depression without manic episodes). Younger people who have the disease tend to be bipolar; older people who have the disease tend only to have episodes of depression. People whose disturbances can be traced to medication or another medical condition do not have schizoaffective disorder.

Schizoaffective disorders are not hereditary. Abnormalities in the white matter, hypothalamus, and hippocampus have been detected in brain scans of people who have the disease.

What Is the Prognosis for Schizoaffective Disorder?

About 10% of people who have schizoaffective disorder commit suicide or homicide. People with the condition have a brighter future than those who have schizophrenia, but are less likely to lead independent lives than people who have bipolar disorder. Early onset of the disease (age 25 or younger), lack of remissions, and the lack of an identifiable traumatic event triggering symptoms are indicators of a bleaker outlook for the disease.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bottlender R, Strauss A, Möller HJ. Social disability in schizophrenic, schizoaffective and affective disorders 15 years after first admission. Schizophr Res. Jan 2010.116(1):9-15.
  • Radonic E, Rados M, Kalember P, Bajs-Janovic M, Folnegovic-Smalc V, Henigsberg N. Comparison of hippocampal volumes in schizophrenia, schizoaffective and bipolar disorder. Coll Antropol. Jan 2011. 35 Suppl 1:249-52.
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