“Society doesn’t recognize how hard it is to recover from a mental illness.”
These are the words of the West Virginia University English professor and published author Dr. Mark Brazaitis Wednesday evening in the Advanced Science and Technology Hall (ATS) where he talked to students about his book, “The Incurables,” that explores mental illness.
Along with being an English professor at WVU, where he teaches creative writing, he is the author of four books, some of which have won major awards. His most recent work, “The Incurables,” was the winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction.
“The Incurables” focuses on the lives of characters in a small town in Ohio. Included in the novel are ten short stories, mainly pertaining to mental illness and others pertaining to relationships and things of that nature that are “incurable.”
Brazaitis said that as soon as he thought about this idea to write a fiction book about mental illness, his idea came to life. He said he knew exactly how he wanted the book to be constructed. He said that this book was a dream come true.
The book opens with the first short story, “The Bridge.” This story consists of inhabitants of the town throwing themselves off a bridge in suicide attempts.
“Sadly, most mental illnesses result in either suicide attempts or successful suicides,” Brazaitis said. “Some of the stories in the book don’t touch on mental illness. Sometimes simple relationships between families and friends can be incurable.”
Although his book focuses on the aspects of mental illness, he said that this is not a self-help book, but merely a work of fiction. He wanted his novel to explore situations about individuals who suffer from being depressed or bipolar.
“Hopefully I can help someone out there,” he said. “We all get depressed sometimes. Even me.”
Brazaitis’ personal experience with depression is what started the writing process of “The Incurables.” He mentioned how a plethora of things can make us all feel down about ourselves at one point or another, but it always gets better. Brazaitis said he feels as though his writing expresses how he feels toward the topic of mental illness.
According to Brazaitis, “The Incurables” was a different work than others he has written before.
“A lot of my previous work is about Guatemala. My earlier books were centered on Peace Corps workers in the 1990s and certain issues that were going on geographically back when I was in the process of writing,” he said. “’The Incurables’ takes place in the United States and it features characters with mental illnesses, so it’s a lot different. Risky, but different.”
When the idea of the book first came about, Brazaitis acknowledged how ignorant people were on the subject of mental illnesses.
“This society sometimes stereotypes people with mental illness,” he said. “No stereotypes are positive. Mental illness is not a type of choice. Most people will claim that you are lazy, when it reality, you can’t get out of bed because you have breast cancer or suffer from serious depression.”
Brazaitis added, “It is not a person’s fault if they are suffering from a mental illness. Some people seem to think that if you are crazy, you are always going to be crazy.“
Through his writing, Brazaitis said he wants his readers to acknowledge that mental illness should be looked at as a disorder that can be cured through time. He pointed out that it shouldn’t be shameful.
“To stigmatize [mental illness] makes it worse for people who are suffering from it,” he said.