In a small coastal village in Cebu, Philippines, 31-year-old Junie Ilustrisimo spends his days lying down naked on a wooden cot with his legs tucked into his body. His aunt looks after him, bringing food and water to his bedside. Ilustrisimo hasn’t stood up in five years and hasn’t taken a shower in 13.
According to a segment in a local television show, Ilustrisimo’s father left him with his grandparents when he was only four years old. He started working at a young age to help make ends meet. And when he was old enough, he worked as a fisherman from 6 in the afternoon to 5 in the morning. When his grandparents died, his aunt took him in.
The root cause of Ilustrisimo’s withdrawal from society could be a number of things. He started foregoing baths every now and then until eventually stopping entirely for reasons that his aunt isn’t sure of. According to her, he also started growing quiet after his grandparents’ death. He was 18 years old when he last took a bath.
Dr. Camille Garcia, a psychologist featured in the show, speculated that his condition may be an undiagnosed depression related to his parents’ abandonment. Or he might also have experienced some trauma caused by his time working as such a young age.
Or it might be ablutophobia, described by Dr. Garcia as a phobia towards bathing or washing. Like other irrational fears, ablutophobia may be caused by a traumatic event, a change in brain functioning, or genetics according to health service website Healthline.
Though the conversation around mental health in the Philippines has progressed in the past few years, there is still a lot of ground to cover. Despite a mental health bill getting approved into law by the Senate in 2017, mental health services are still considered inaccessible by many especially in the provinces where that conversation isn’t as prevalent as in the bigger cities, if at all.
Earlier this year, a suicide prevention hotline founded by a nonprofit organization struggled to continue operations after the Department of Health and the National Center for Mental Health withdrew support. Because of their poverty, the only way Ilustrisimo's case got any attention was through the television show.
The fact that media attention was the only way for him to receive the necessary support and diagnosis reveals a lot about the lack of attention being paid towards the people who suffer and the general lack of knowledge about mental health in the country.