For young people with schizoaffective disorder, navigating daily life can be challenging. Teenagers and adolescents may experience hallucinations and delusions, social isolation, depression, and manic episodes. These symptoms can make it difficult to maintain stable and satisfying relationships with others, focus on studies, and perform at school or work.
While these challenges can be difficult to manage, young people with schizoaffective disorder are valuable people with gifts, talents, and potential. With treatment and care, young people can learn to cope with – or recover from – the disorder and build fulfilling and happy futures.
That said, it’s important for parents of young people with schizoaffective disorder to have realistic expectations. While some teenagers and adolescents may only experience symptoms during one period of their lives, others will always experience some symptoms, even with effective treatment. These symptoms can affect a young person’s ability to excel in school or maintain stable work as an adult.
This blog looks into how schizoaffective disorder can affect a young person’s educational journey as they move from adolescence to adulthood. It also outlines some treatments for the condition that can help to reduce symptoms and stop them from returning in the future.
What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder is when someone experiences psychotic symptoms alongside symptoms of mood disorders. Some people describe schizoaffective disorder as a halfway point between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In fact, schizoaffective disorder is its own diagnosis, distinct from either of the other two conditions.
Young people with schizoaffective disorder may experience different symptoms of psychosis. These can include both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ symptoms.
Positive psychotic symptoms describe changes in thoughts or behaviours, such as:
- Hallucinations, when a young person sees or hears things that other people don’t, such as voices or images
- Delusions, when someone believes or has a different perception of reality to other people
Negative symptoms of psychosis describe ways of withdrawing from the surrounding world. Young people may experience:
- Social isolation
- A lack of motivation
- Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Disconnection from their emotions
Alongside symptoms of psychosis, teenagers and adolescents with schizoaffective disorder also experience mood symptoms. These symptoms are usually similar to those of bipolar disorder and may involve either depressive symptoms or episodes of both depression and mania.
Some mood symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or low
- Difficulty sleeping
- Disconnection from others
- Suicidal thoughts
- Extreme excitement or irritation
- Making unrealistic or risky plans
While schizoaffective disorder can feel scary, scientists have done a lot of research into managing and treating the disorder. There are several treatment options available that can help young people cope or recover from psychotic, manic, and depressive symptoms. The most important thing is to seek professional help so that teenagers and adolescents can receive the care and support they deserve.
How Does Schizoaffective Disorder Affect Work and Education?
Schizoaffective disorder can make it harder for young people to reach their goals, at school or as they enter working life. Young people may find that it’s hard to concentrate or stay committed to certain tasks. They may also experience episodes where they feel hopeless or defeated. Sometimes it can be hard for teenagers to attend lessons each day and psychotic symptoms can lead to periods of hospitalisation or missed school.
Scientists still aren’t clear how likely it is that young people with the disorder will experience negative effects on their work or education – or how severe these effects tend to be. Different studies have found different statistics, some more optimistic than others.
One research project on the lives of adolescents with schizoaffective disorder found that a majority of young people with the condition experience difficulties surrounding academic performance and, later, finding and maintaining work. They also tended to experience challenges socialising and often relied on their parents or state support, even in adulthood.
Compared to other research, they found that young people who develop symptoms earlier in their lives face the biggest challenges later on. Early onset is associated with lower educational attainment, which may affect the types of jobs they can do as adults.
Other research points to a more positive picture. One international study found that 50% of people who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia had favourable outcomes later on in life, with few symptoms and/or employment. They found that sociocultural conditions and early interventions were crucial in helping young adults build optimistic futures, including social support as well as medication.
How Can Early Intervention, Support, and Treatment Help Young People in School and Work?
Research shows us how important effective interventions and support are for the lives of young people with schizoaffective disorder. Because the disorder can affect young people’s ability to maintain social relationships, succeed in school, and find work, these interventions have to take a whole-person approach.
By learning different skills to navigate and cope with various parts of life, young people can start to build more stable lives today – and look to a better tomorrow.
Support for schizoaffective disorder may include:
- Medication and psychotherapy
- Social skills training
- Emotional and life support
- Life skills that promote self-care and independence
- Vocational training
- Supported employment
Several different types of psychotherapy can support young people with schizoaffective disorder. Psychotherapeutic approaches aim to help teenagers and adolescents develop their social skills and cognitive abilities. They support individuals to manage difficult emotional, psychological, and behavioural symptoms and make positive changes for the future.
Psychotherapy may involve individual therapy, group therapy, psychoeducation, and family therapy. Different sessions may address the various aspects of the condition, including symptoms of psychosis, mania, and/or depression. As every young person’s experience and journey is unique, treatment programs should be individualised and reflect the needs of each individual.
Overcoming Stigma and Misconceptions
Sadly, there is still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding about schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia that can add additional barriers to a young person’s life. Stigma surrounding the condition can lead to social isolation and a lack of support, making it harder for young people to manage and cope with symptoms. Some teenagers and adolescents describe being abandoned by others who seem scared of, or avoid, them.
Experiencing psychotic symptoms doesn’t mean a young person is dangerous. Individuals with schizophrenia are much more likely to be a victim of a crime than to commit a crime themselves and many people with schizophrenia can live a normal life with some extra support.
Psychotic disorders are also more common than many people think. Research has found that 3.48% of people will experience a psychotic disorder like schizoaffective disorder at some point in their life. That’s around 1 in 30 people.
Young people with schizoaffective disorder require a supportive team: of family, health and social professionals, school staff, and other community members. When these are in place, their expectations for education and the rest of their lives are much higher and young people can look towards a more optimistic future.
The Wave Clinic: Building Better Futures
The Wave Clinic is a mental health treatment centre for young people, helping them to build life advantage. Our whole-person approach combines exceptional clinical care with education, social responsibility, and a gap year experience, supporting young people to reconnect with their passions and develop the skills they need to follow their dreams.
Situated in Malaysia, our centre is full of opportunities to explore new life paths, take part in vocational courses, participate in local projects, and grow through new and exciting experiences. At the same time, our expert team of medics, psychiatrists, and psychologists provide unequalled care for each young person, helping them to recover and stay safe, both physically and mentally.
If you would like to find out more about our programs, reach out to us today. You’re in the best hands.