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Understanding Teen Schizoaffective Disorder

depressed teenager

Schizoaffective disorder encompasses clinical features that present in both mood disorders and schizophrenia. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists schizoaffective disorder as a neuropsychiatric disorder, which is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, formal thought disorder, or negative symptoms that co-occur with depressive and/ or manic symptoms. Schizoaffective disorder has been said to be extremely challenging to diagnose in adolescents, as the associated symptoms are difficult to distinguish from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mood disorders. There are two types of schizoaffective disorder: bipolar type and depressive type. The bipolar type includes episodes of mania and in some cases major depressions, and the depressive type includes only major depressive episodes. Both types of schizoaffective disorder also include some symptoms of schizophrenia.

Signs and Symptoms

Every person is different and will likely present with a unique set of signs and symptoms in relation to schizoaffective disorder. The combination of symptoms as well as the severity will vary from teen to teen. Some examples of symptoms that may be exhibited by a teenager diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder could include, but are not limited to the following, as provided by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Delusions
  • Bizarre or unusual behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired communication
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Abnormal motor behavior
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Diminished emotional expression
  • Decreased ability to experience pleasure
  • Difficulty maintaining healthy personal hygiene

The specific signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder a teen may exhibit will depend on the type of schizoaffective disorder (bipolar or depressive) he or she has. It is important to note that some of the above signs may present in young people that do not have schizoaffective disorder, which is why obtaining an accurate diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional is essential. 

Risk Factors

The precise reason as to why a young person develops schizoaffective disorder remains unknown. However, certain risk factors have been noted to increase a young person’s propensity for developing schizoaffective disorder. These include: genetics (family history), substance abuse, and exposure to trauma. If a young person has a family history that includes schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and/ or schizophrenia he or she may be at increased risk for developing schizoaffective disorder. Abusing substances (i.e. mind-altering drugs) as an adolescent can awaken dormant mental health illnesses and/ or worsen symptoms when an underlying disorder is present. Exposure to a stressful and/ or traumatic event as a teen could trigger schizoaffective disorder symptoms. 


According to the Mayo Clinic, young people with schizoaffective disorder are at increased risk of:

  • Social isolation
  • Family and friend conflicts
  • Significant health problems
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Falling behind academically
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Drugs and/ or alcohol use problems

If left untreated, the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can lead to severe short and long-term consequences. There are a variety of treatment options available for teenagers diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Depending on the specific needs of the teen, a treatment plan can include wide variety of distinct therapeutic modalities, such as psychotherapy, group therapy, creative arts therapies, and more.

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at or through our contact form.

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