When my daughter was 10 years old, she started experiencing some disturbing symptoms – zoning out, having conversations with herself, inability or unwillingness to take care of herself, extreme mood changes including depression and manic episodes, paranoia, hallucinations, self-mutilation and episodes of rage and aggression.
The entire family was confused and so scared of my daughter. We never knew when the next blow-up or manic high would be or what words she’d speak at any given moment – whether loving, silly, nonsense or hate-filled verbiage. We all felt we were walking on egg-shells in order to keep some sense of peace in the house. We did what we could to ease her anxiety and moodiness (as well as ours) and try to live in a “normal” house. It didn’t work though. She (and the rest of the family) desperately needed professional help.
She was first hospitalized at age 11 in a child psychiatric ward and eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. In a way, I was relieved that there was a formal name to her symptoms. I could face it head-on that way. But schizoaffective disorder? What the heck was that?
Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms
Schizoaffective disorder generally appears during the late teens or in early adulthood – between the ages 16-30. The disorder occurs more in females than males and rare in children.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states, “Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental illness…thought to be between the bipolar and schizophrenia diagnoses as it has features of both.” Please see NAMI’s schizoaffective disorder fact sheet for more information – http://www.nami.org/factsheets/schizoaffective_factsheet.pdf.
It’s thought that individuals diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder have a better long-term prognosis that those with schizophrenia but less than those with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include:
* paranoid thoughts
* extreme moods – hyperactive to depressive to catatonic states
* thoughts of suicide/homicide
* disorganized thinking/speaking
* problems paying attention and focusing
* racing thoughts
* poor hygiene and physical appearance
* sleep disturbances
* self-destructive, dangerous or odd behavior
Preparing for a Dr’s appointment
The Dr. will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a physical exam. There are many things you can do to help the Dr. during the initial appointment.
* write down symptoms/episodes that your loved one has experienced (you won’t remember everything so making a list is important)
* write down any significant life changes – death, divorce, birth, adoption or relocation to a new area
* write down any medications your loved one takes – both prescription and over-the-counter
* make a list of questions (such as: What is causing the symptoms? Is this temporary or permanent? What treatments do you recommend? What medications are necessary and what are the side effects? What kind of help is available for the family?)
* help prepare your loved one for the appointment – make sure they know that you love them, are trying to help them feel better and that they are safe in talking honestly with the Dr.
Although there is no cure for schizoaffective disorder, there are many treatment options available. Often a combination of these treatments will work best for your loved one and the rest of the family. They include:
* medications – antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers
* individual counseling
* group therapy
* family counseling
It has now been 8 years since the schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. Life has been a whirlwind of ups and downs. Although my hopes and dreams for my little girl were shattered, I love her. Always will. I do all that I can to learn of the disorder and how I may help her make it through life. I know that I’m not alone and hope you know that too.
What has been your experience with schizoaffective disorder or any other type of schizophrenia or bipolar diagnosis? How do you cope?
Please share your comments below…