(NEW YORK) -- Eugene Bata is young and handsome. The New York City resident could easily be mistaken for a younger version of dashing actors Mario Lopez and Ralph Macchio.
But until recently, Bata, 20, saw anything but Hollywood good looks when he studied himself in the mirror. What he saw, he said, was straight out of a horror film.
He saw an ugly man, with small eyes, an oddly-shaped nose and skin so wrinkled that he considered getting Botox treatments.
"When I looked in the mirror, I wouldn't be able to stop, because I was desperate to fix my face, to camouflage it … There were times I would stare for hours, that I couldn't tear myself away," he told ABC's Good Morning America.
Bata suffers from body dysmorphic disorder. People with this mental illness see a distorted -- and often grotesque -- version of themselves when they look into the mirror.
His self-loathing grew so strong that he started missing school. At first, it was just for a few days, then a few weeks. At his lowest point, he contemplated suicide.
In his attempts to make himself look presentable, he showered up to five times per day, and even bought makeup for his nose.
Severe BDD can ruin a person's life, Dr. Katharine Phillips, a psychiatrist and BDD expert, told GMA.
"People with this disorder think they're so ugly, they just don't want to leave the house. I've seen people with BDD that haven't left the house in five or six years," she said.
As many as five million Americans are thought to be affected by the condition.
"It's a very secret disorder," Phillips said. "Many people with body dysmorphic disorder are very ashamed of their symptoms. They're worried if they talk about their fear … people are going to think they're vain. And the reality is, BDD is not vanity."
Telltale signs of BDD include a desire to look into the mirror all the time -- or not at all -- the urge to change clothes multiple times a day, and a deep interest in -- even an addiction to -- cosmetic procedures.
It is not clear what causes BDD, but researchers believe genetics and traumatic childhood experiences, such as bullying and parental neglect, play critical roles.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio