Oftentimes, it may be difficult for professionals, let alone the general public, to differentiate between mental health disorders especially when two disorders share similar traits and genetic dispositions. This is often true for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, both are debilitating mental health disorders but with the proper treatment, symptoms can be controlled. Genetics play a large role in the development of both disorders and studies have shown that some abnormalities in the same genes may be shared by both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In addition, it is vital to know the difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is generally misconstrued as a disorder of rapidly ricocheting moods that go from deep misery to extraordinary elevated self-belief however this common mood disorder is much more complex than the assumed emotional labile rollercoaster that our society believes. Statistics reveal that 2.5 million Americans over the age of 18 are believed to be living with either bipolar I or bipolar II disorder, and that’s not including the ones who haven’t been diagnosed properly, a major issue, which is deeply tied to misinformation about symptoms. Bipolar affective disorder or manic-depressive illness is a mood disorder characterized by periods of profound depression that alternate with periods of excessive elation and irritable mood known as mania. Because it is a mood disorder it is in the same category as depression, also a mood disorder but without the mania component. Individuals will suffer from extreme mood swings that interfere with personal relationships, occupational function, and daily activities. It is common for bipolar disorder to be apart of a co-occurring disorder, which refers to mental health illnesses that co-occur with substance abuse disorders such as opioid, alcohol or cocaine abuse. Bipolar disorder can often co-occur with anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder and when these disorders co-occur, there is a higher likelihood of substance abuse and suicide attempts. Bipolar disorder can be characterized into two types: bipolar disorder type I (BPI), and bipolar disorder type II (BPII).


Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that is characterized by psychotic symptoms and greatly affects how an individual feels, thinks, behaves and perceives reality. Auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs) are the hallmark of this disorder. Unfortunately like many other mental health disorders, there is severe stigma associated with schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia can demonstrate such bizarre behavior that often frightens others around them. This mental health disorder can affect anyone regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity and it important that awareness is raised in order to eliminate the stigma associated with this disabling mental health illness. Schizophrenia affects approximately one percent of individuals worldwide and affects both men and women equally. The onset of this mental health illness occurs between the late teenage years and thirty years of age. Males generally experience the first onset of symptoms in their early twenties whereas the peak onset usually occurs in the late twenties for females.

Schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type

Schizoaffective disorder is a subset of schizophrenia but also includes symptoms of a mood disorder such as depression or mania however hallucinations and delusions must also be present as well.  The bipolar subtype of schizoaffective disorder presents with symptoms of mania mixed with psychotic symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Since this disorder is combines symptoms for separate mental health illnesses, it is often misdiagnosed which prolongs the treatment course resulting in potential negative complications. The following is the diagnostic criteria for schizoaffective disorder, bipolar subtype:

  • An uninterrupted period during which there is manic episodes occurring at the same time that symptoms of schizophrenia are present.
  • Delusions or hallucinations for two weeks or more in the absence of a major mood episode (during the course of the illness).
  • Symptoms that meet criteria for a major mood episode are present for the majority of the duration of the illness
  • Symptoms are not attributable to drug use or medication.

Seeking treatment

Treatment for schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia include medication management, psychotherapy and life skills training. Depending on the symptoms present and the specific disorder antipsychotics or and/or antidepressant medications are generally prescribed to control symptoms. Additionally, it is important to recognize any co-occurring disorder such as substance abuse or any underlying triggers that can be exacerbating these disorders.