Key Points:

Peter Bullimore still hears aggressive voices inside his head, but he has rejected the stigmatising label of "schizophrenia" and is now campaigning for it to be discarded.

Schizophrenia is a long-accepted diagnostic category in psychiatric manuals used by mental health workers. But it is also a word loaded with cultural meaning, stereotypes and fear. Searching the combination "schizophrenia and murder" in the Herald's 8-year-old computerised clippings file produced 93 results.

Mr Bullimore, 46, from Britain, an advocate for consumers of mental health care who last week addressed the Making Sense of Psychosis conference at Auckland University, said he had been repeatedly victimised because of his schizophrenia label. He naively told others of the diagnosis, at first not realising what this could lead to.

"I had my face and body slashed. I was spat at. They wrote on my windows 'schizo out'."

After his wife threw him out, he lived at a housing estate which was a "dumping ground" for the mentally ill.

"People asked, 'What are you doing around here?' and I said I had lost my family because I had got schizophrenia. You can't envisage the backlash you are going to get just by being honest."

His recovery began when he joined a group for people who heard voices. He had been using numerous psychiatric medicines but stopped taking them in 1999.

"I've reclaimed my life by getting rid of the label schizophrenia," Mr Bullimore said. "I'm proud to say I'm a voice-hearer."

The voices were mainly negative. The main one was the voice of the person who physically and sexually abused him when he was aged between 5 and 13. He attributes the fact he hears voices to that trauma.

He said that sometimes the voices told him to harm others, but he never had. They also told him to harm himself and in the past he had obeyed, "but in later years I'm more in control of this".

Facing his abuser and telling her that what she had done was wrong had helped him greatly. After this, when he heard her voice in his head, he was no longer afraid.

His co-campaigner, Paul Hammersley, the head of a cognitive behaviour therapy programme at Manchester University, said schizophrenia as a label was out-of-date, based on weak science and of little use.

Instead, it could be split into anxiety psychosis, sensitivity psychosis, drug-related psychosis and post-traumatic psychosis.

Auckland University's head of psychological medicine, Professor Rob Kydd, said he sympathised with objections over the stigma associated with the word schizophrenia.

"But I'm a bit concerned about people moving on too quickly before they have sorted out what's going to replace it."

SCHIZOPHRENIA

* An estimated 12,000 New Zealanders are affected by schizophrenia at some point in their lives. It has been described as a group of psychotic illnesses characterised by disturbances of thinking, emotional reaction and behaviour.

* It can involve hallucinations and delusions.