New book coming in August: a teen girl writes about mental illness and recovery

“The psych ward is where you go to get from fragile to shattered. It’s like taking your car to get washed and getting your windshield broken in the process.”

That’s what Hannah Westberg, 18, says in her soon-to-be-published book.

Hannah: My True Story of Drugs, Cutting and Mental Illness, which goes on sale next month, explores issues that may hit home to many readers: drinking, drugging, cutting, suicide attempts, hospitalizations – and recovery. Hannah uses a series of vignettes to tell her story and describe the everyday reality of living with mental illness.

By the eighth grade, Hannah was skipping school, drinking, taking pills, and cutting herself. The summer before ninth grade, she attempted suicide for the first time. Since then, there have been stays in the psych unit, several therapists, antidepressants, recovery, relapse, and recovery again.

Hannah says medication and therapy are vital to her wellness, as well as DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) skills. She says taking care of her body is important to her emotional health.

“I seek balance in my life and my thoughts,” she says. “It’s a complicated process that gets easier over time.

“It takes work.”

She hopes young girls who read the book will see that, “although there is no magical fix for these problems, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Hannah said the writing and editing took about six months, accomplished in “bursts” of writing, punctuated by periods of writer’s block or unavoidable interruptions, and completed just in time for the deadline. “Writing about one’s own life is difficult in general,” she said. “It’s hard to be objective. I hope my interpretation shows my feelings clearly and doesn’t hurt anyone in the process, but I told the truth as I experienced it. It was a cathartic act.”

What’s next for Hannah? Enrolled in Clark College, she plans to transfer in two years to a four-year school, where she will study addiction counseling. Her future writing, she says, will probably be essays in the style of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. “I love writing, but I’m not great with fiction, so I might share some more life experiences – after I have some.”

Watch for details of upcoming readings.

Preorder the book: $7.95 + shipping at


Disclosure: Hannah is the daughter of MHAP board member Jenny Westberg, who wrote this article.