I’m hoping someone can clear this up for me. One of my uncles has schizoaffective disorder. He was originally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia after he had his first psychotic break at 19. Over time, he has become increasingly emotionally labile and in addition to constant paranoid delusions and auditory and visual hallucinations, he is prone to severe depression, and manic episodes involving extreme fits of rage (which often lead to violence.)
He is one of the most non-functional human beings I’ve ever met. You don’t even have to start talking to him to know that he is crazy–you can spot his crazy from three blocks down. His speech pattern is completely disorganized, he was hospitalized 8 times once in a single summer, and he is constantly being thrown out of his apartment due to destruction of property. Due to his history of violent outbursts, he has been court mandated to receive his medications via injection. He cannot work and is dependent on others to frequently visit, take him grocery shopping and make sure he’s not a danger to himself or others.
For most of my life, this has been my understanding of schizoaffective disorder… basically schizophrenia and bipolar combined–a nasty, vicious, brutal combination that has transformed my brilliant, kindhearted uncle into a miserable social recluse.
Yet, increasingly over the last year or so I have heard people refer to schizoaffective disorder in a way that challenges my understanding of it. I was recently stationed as an intern (I have since been transfered) at a partial-care hospital for mentally ill child abusers, and schizoaffective disorder, when referenced, seemed to be viewed as some kind of bipolar with occasional psychosis. I’ve even seen apparently rational people on this board suggest that they have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder or are convinced they have it.
My knee-jerk reaction is, ‘‘Then why aren’t you behaving like a complete effing loon? Why are you not ranting about particle physics and your explosive diarrhea and how ‘‘they’’ are sending messages through your television? No cheesecake in your cigarettes? No dead bodies in them either? You don’t believe people are poisoning your food? Haven’t recently set your apartment on fire? Then how are you schizoaffective?’’
I’m not so dense I don’t grasp that mental illness severity can exist on a spectrum, but I feel like every example of schizoaffective disorder I’ve encountered lately pales in comparison to what my uncle is dealing with. Am I completely misunderstanding the characterization of this disorder? Are people confusing it with schizotypal personality disorder? Is my uncle just a really, really extreme case? A possible misdiagnosis? What gives?