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What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

What is Schizoaffective Disorder? Our Ontario Disability Lawyers Explain.

Schizoaffective disorder is a complex mental health disorder that intertwines symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders. The schizophrenia component is characterized by symptoms such as hallucinations, where a person might see, hear, or smell things that are not present, and delusions, which are false beliefs strongly held in spite of clear or logical evidence. Symptoms can also include disorganized thinking, reduced social engagement, and emotional expression, as well as periods of diminished motivation and functioning.

The mood disorder component of schizoaffective disorder is marked by periods of major mood episodes, which can include mania (a state of elevated or irritable mood, energy, and activity) or depression (a state of persistent low mood, low self-esteem, and loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed).

As a result of having components of both schizophrenia and mood disorders, people with schizoaffective disorder often experience fluctuations in their mood and perception of reality, leading to significant distress and impairment in various areas of functioning such as work, school, or relationships.

The specific cause of schizoaffective disorder is still not known, but it’s believed to be influenced by a combination of factors including genetics, brain chemistry and structure, and environmental factors. Stressful events such as a death in the family, loss of a job, or traumatic experiences might also contribute to triggering symptoms.

What are the two types of schizoaffective disorders?

Ther are two types of schizoaffective disorder – bipolar type and depressive type:

Bipolar Type: In the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder, individuals experience episodes of mania. During a manic episode, you may feel unusually euphoric or energized, speak rapidly, have racing thoughts, become easily distracted, require less sleep, or engage in risky behaviors that are out of character. These manic episodes can be interspersed with periods of depression or can occur without them. During depressive episodes, you may experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed. You may also notice changes in sleep and appetite, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, or even thoughts of suicide. The bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder involves this cyclical movement between elevated and depressed moods, along with symptoms of schizophrenia.

Depressive Type: The depressive type of schizoaffective disorder is distinguished by the presence of major depressive episodes, but not manic episodes. As in the bipolar type, you would still experience symptoms common to schizophrenia. However, the mood disorder component exclusively involves depression. Major depressive episodes involve symptoms such as a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, significant weight loss or gain, or changes in appetite, among others.

It’s important to understand that experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia along with mood episodes can be challenging and may create confusion about what you’re experiencing. If you suspect you may have schizoaffective disorder, it’s crucial to seek help from a mental health professional. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation and guide you towards appropriate treatment options. Remember, these descriptions are intended to provide a general overview, and mental health diagnoses rely on a range of criteria that must be assessed by a professional. It’s important not to self-diagnose, but instead to use this information as a starting point for a conversation with a healthcare provider.

What are the main symptoms of schizoaffective disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder comprises symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, either bipolar or depression. The specific combination of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, depending on the type of schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type or depressive type) and the individual’s unique experience. Here are some of the common symptoms in detail:

Hallucinations: These are sensory experiences that occur without an outside stimulus. They can affect any of the five senses. For example, a person might hear voices (auditory hallucinations) or see things that aren’t there (visual hallucinations).

Delusions: These are false beliefs that a person holds, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. For example, a person may believe that they’re being followed or spied on, or that they have special powers or abilities.

Disorganized thinking: This is often inferred from a person’s speech. People with disorganized thinking might give answers that are unrelated to the questions asked, or their speech might include loosely associated or completely unrelated ideas.

Depressive symptoms: These can include feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness; loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed; changes in appetite or weight; sleeping too much or too little; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions; or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Manic symptoms: These can include inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking, flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity, or excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences.

Impaired social and occupational functioning: This can range from marked difficulties in maintaining employment, fulfilling one’s role at work, school, or home, or maintaining healthy relationships.

Negative symptoms: These refer to a reduction or absence of normal behaviors and may include diminished emotional expression, reduction in feelings of pleasure, lack of motivation, or reduced speaking.

It’s important to note that to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a person must have some period where they experience a major mood episode (depression or mania) at the same time as symptoms of schizophrenia. Also, they need to have experienced delusions or hallucinations for two or more weeks in the absence of a major mood episode.

Can schizoaffective disorder cause work impairment?

Absolutely – over the years our long-term disability lawyers have represented clients who’s schizoaffective disorder had significantly impacted the ability to work – particularly in more severe cases. It’s essential to understand that the influence of this disorder on occupational functioning is not simply a matter of diminished productivity, but can encompass a multitude of challenges that are both direct and indirect consequences of the disorder’s symptoms.

In the most serious instances, key symptoms such as severe delusions and pronounced paranoia can present formidable obstacles to consistent and productive employment. Delusions, or fixed false beliefs, can disrupt a person’s ability to perceive reality accurately, which is essential in most work environments. For example, a person who is experiencing a delusion may believe they are being persecuted or conspired against by their coworkers or supervisors, leading to distress, a breakdown of teamwork, and difficulty in focusing on tasks. In some cases, their reactions to these delusions could also potentially disrupt the work environment for others. This is something that our Ontario disability lawyers have seen first hand.

Paranoia, or unjustified suspicion and mistrust of others, can further exacerbate these issues. If a person is excessively mistrustful or suspicious, they may find it challenging to work cohesively in a team, respond appropriately to supervision, or interact productively with customers or clients. This can lead to significant stress and tension in the workplace and might even compromise the safety and comfort of the individual and their coworkers.

Moreover, other symptoms like hallucinations, disorganized thinking, or periods of mania or depression can further impair a person’s ability to concentrate, make rational decisions, or maintain a consistent work schedule. Additionally, negative symptoms such as diminished emotional expression or a lack of motivation can also contribute to difficulties in workplace communication and engagement.

In some cases, these symptoms can be so severe and persistent that maintaining regular employment becomes virtually impossible. It’s important to note that the ability to work will vary greatly among individuals with schizoaffective disorder, depending on the severity and fluctuation of their symptoms, their response to treatment, and the type and demands of their work. While some people may be able to work full or part-time with adequate support and accommodations, others may qualify for disability benefits due to the debilitating nature of their condition.

Severe Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms can Lead to Long-Term Disability Benefits

Schizoaffective disorder commonly manifests in late adolescence or early adulthood, but did you know that its onset may occur later in life? When this happens, many individual are already in the thick of their working career. The onset timing of this mental health condition hinges on a multifaceted combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological aspects.

Genetic predispositions, though always present, might not trigger the disorder until certain environmental or personal conditions are met. Similarly, alterations in brain chemistry or structure, related to age or neurological changes, could activate a later onset. Changes in life circumstances, such as retirement, loss of loved ones, or other significant life stressors, can also act as triggering factors. Psychological stressors, or cumulative lifetime stress exposure, might surpass a person’s coping threshold leading to the manifestation of symptoms.

When this occurs it’s vital to apply for long-term disability benefits through your group health provider. Talk to your benefits administrator at work about how to apply for short-term disability or EI sick – and then after the eliminaiton period, how to apply for long-term disability benefits.

Can I get Disability benefits for Schizoaffective Disorder?

Absolutely – if you suffer schizoaffective disorder – feel free to speak to our Ontario Disability Lawyers about your entitlement to Long-Term Disability Benefits at anytime – for free. In Canada, an individual diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder may be entitled to long-term disability (LTD) benefits if their symptoms are severe enough to inhibit their ability to work. As an extremely serious mental health condition, schizoaffective disorder can be considered a disability if the severity of the symptoms significantly impairs the person’s daily functioning and ability to maintain gainful employment.

The process typically begins with an “own occupation” period, which refers to the initial stage of disability, generally the first two years. During this period, to qualify for benefits, the person must be unable to perform the tasks of their specific job role due to their disorder. This determination is made based on medical evidence, usually provided by the treating physicians or mental health professionals, showing that the symptoms are severe and persistent enough to prevent the person from fulfilling the duties of their own occupation.

After the “own occupation” period, there is a “change of definition”. This means that the definition of disability shifts from being unable to perform the tasks of one’s own occupation to being unable to perform tasks of “any occupation” for which the person is reasonably suited by education, training, or experience. This typically takes effect after two years of receiving LTD benefits. The “any occupation” provision considers whether the person can perform any work at all, not just their previous job. If the individual is still unable to work in any gainful employment due to the severity of their schizoaffective disorder, they would continue to be eligible for LTD benefits.

It’s crucial to note that each LTD policy may have different terms and conditions, and the exact definitions of “own occupation” and “any occupation” may vary. It’s advisable for individuals to consult with a legal professional or a disability advocate to understand their policy and navigate the claims process.

Suffer friom Schizoaffective Disorder and Denied Long-Term Disability? Call our Ontario Disability Lawyers Today.

If you have any questions regarding schizoaffective disorder and compromised work ability, termination issues or Ontario Long-Term Disability we can help. Our Disability Lawyers have been representing terminated employees and disability claimants since 1984. We have recovered tens of millions in wrongfully denied disability benefits and can help you get your benefits back on track.  Contact us today no matter where you are in Canada by calling us at 1-844-4-DISABILITY. Alternatively you can email us confidentially and our intake specialist will help you set up an appointment in-person, by phone or by virtual video conference. Our Ontario Disability Lawyers are based in Hamilton and serve disability claimants all across Canada.



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