What is Schizophrenia + Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizophrenia is another frequently misunderstood disorder, though is portrayed more accurately in the media. Schizophrenia is commonly misused to describe someone with multiple personalities. The name schizophrenia is made up of two parts: “Schizo-,” meaning split, and “-phrenia,” meaning mind. Unlike the term “split mind” might indicate, schizophrenia is the mind splitting from reality, rather than splitting into pieces.
A Beautiful Mind is a fairly decent depiction of some parts of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, in an easily understood way. Unfortunately, this is not what hallucinations and delusions always look like- often there is not a visual hallucination to correspond to an auditory hallucination. Before I go into more specifics, here are several important definitions:



Hallucinations are when you experience something that is not there. There are 5 primary types of hallucinations:

  1. Visual: Seeing something that isn’t there.
  2. Auditory: Hearing something that isn’t there.
  3. Tactile: Feeling something that isn’t there.
  4. Olfactory: Smelling something that isn’t there.
  5. Gustatory: Tasting something that isn’t there.



Delusions are beliefs that are different from the rest of society. Common examples of delusions include paranoia, “conspiracy theories,” feelings of being watched, beliefs that a celebrity is communicating with you through their work, items have special powers, etc.

Hallucinations and delusions are culturally-relevant, meaning if the belief is common in your culture, it’s not considered a delusion. One instance of this is in Haiti, where the primary religion is Vodou (voodoo), spiritual possession is considered normal and someone experiencing a possession would not be classified as psychotic.

Schizophrenia is comprised of two types of symptoms: positive and negative.

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms are various types of symptoms that are added to a person’s normal. Examples of this are hallucinations and delusions.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms are various symptoms that are subtracted from a person’s normal. Examples of this are catatonia (inability to move normally) and reduced emotional expression.


To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, you must be symptomatic for at least 6 months. During that period of time, you must experience 2 or more of the following (must have 1, 2, or 3):

  1. delusions
  2. hallucinations
  3. disorganized speech (nonsensical, incoherent)
  4. grossly disorganized behavior or catatonia
  5. negative symptoms

Your symptoms have to make a noticeable impact on your ability to function in one or more areas (caring for yourself, school, work, relationships, etc.) most of the time.
Your symptoms are not due to drug use or another medical/psychiatric condition.
If you have Autism Spectrum Disorder, only hallucinations or delusions are required to make a diagnosis.

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective Disorder is a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. There are two types of Schizoaffective Disorder: depressive type and bipolar type.
To be diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder:

  • You must meet criteria for Schizophrenia
  • Meet criteria for Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder
  • Have mood symptoms for the majority of the time that you’ve had symptoms*
  • Have mood symptoms without psychotic symptoms
  • Have psychotic symptoms without mood symptoms
  •  Not experience these symptoms as a result of drug use or another medical/psychiatric condition

*If you have had psychotic symptoms (schizophrenia) for 4 years, and you’ve had depressive symptoms for a total of 1 year during that time, you would not meet criteria Schizoaffective Disorder. If you’ve had depressive symptoms for 2 years or more during that time period, you would.


There is no specified cause for schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. There are some interesting correlations for schizophrenia, however, such as:

  • Being born in late winter/early spring
  • The age of the father at time of conception
  • Prenatal complications and malnutrition
  • Growing up in urban areas

This is not to say that any of those things cause schizophrenia, but rather than is a slight trend between those things and schizophrenia.
People with a schizophrenic parent have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.
Schizoaffective Disorder has a higher prevalence among people with immediate relatives with Schizoaffective Disorder.


People with schizophrenia typically take some type of antipsychotic medication.
People with Schizoaffective Disorder, Depressive Type often take an antipsychotic and an antidepressant.
People with Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Type often take an antipsychotic, an antidepressant, and a mood stabilizer.
People with these disorders often benefit from individual therapy, family therapy, and support groups. Getting proper care is important, particularly with psychotic symptoms. Having a strong support system is huge in coping with psychotic symptoms. Getting exercise and proper nutrition can help manage mood symptoms associated with Schizoaffective Disorder.


  • ~1% of the adult U.S. population will develop schizophrenia.
  • ~0.3% of the adult U.S. population will develop Schizoaffective Disorder.
  • People with schizophrenia are 50 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • 5-6% of people with schizophrenia will commit suicide.
  • ~20% of people with schizophrenia will attempt suicide.
  • Schizophrenia affects men and women equally, but at different times.
    • Men are more likely to develop schizophrenia during their late teens and early 20s.
    • Women are more likely to develop schizophrenia around 30-40 years old.
  • Schizophrenia typically begins to present in early adulthood.
  • Some people discontinue having hallucinations with medication.
  • Untreated mental health disorders can result in substance abuse.

Schizophrenia Facts: What to Know about Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder

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