Hello everyone! My name is Mikayla Joffe and I am a rising Junior at Pitt studying Writing and Psychology.
For the Brackenridge Fellowship I will be studying the accuracy of mental illness depictions in classic Russian literature. I will be looking into the characterization of seemingly mentally ill characters in famous Russian novels and investigating which mental health condition, or conditions, best align with their symptoms. Then I will study how accurately that character embodies their suspected disorder and whether the characterization of that character reflects any stereotypes or negative associations with mental instability. At the time when most formative Russian classics were written, Russia was overcome by an obsession with ‘madness’, largely due to the use of claims of insanity to persecute one’s political rival during this period. This interest made its way into the minds of many renowned Russian authors who used ‘madness’ as a theme in many of their works. Today, classic Russian literature is often revered for how well writers depicted the raw complexities of the human condition, and thus readers tend to approach these pieces under the assumption that their portrayals of human nature are very telling. This can be dangerous if the authors were not thoughtful regarding the development of these characters, their actions, and the perception others have of them. If the authors were irresponsible or misinformed, these texts can perpetuate harmful stigmas as they continue to be read today. My goal is to determine the level of reliability these authors have with regards to their representations of mental illness so that I can forewarn readers prior to their embankment into such stories.
My goals are to graduate next spring and to begin pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology shortly thereafter. My overall desire is to work to make the world an easier place for people with mental illnesses, who are subjected to additional stressors simply because of how the world views them as a result of their conditions. I believe that we need to study our past in order to move forward in the future, and I think that this project will help me understand how our preconceptions of mental illness have evolved and how the past continues to influence us today. For now, writing is simply an interest of mine so I wanted to find a way to relate it to my professional goals so that I can combine my personal and professional interests for this project.
Aside from psychology and writing, I am also a big fan of visiting museums, collecting antique books of Shakespeare’s complete works, and I have recently discovered a passion for drawing as well. I can’t wait to get to know everyone this summer and hear about all of your amazing projects!