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Casey Young, a senior at Saint Andrew's Episcopal School, writes about the negative effects of vaping on teen mental health and how schools can support vaping cessation. Photo courtesy the CDC

Opinion | Vaping May Negatively Affect Teen Mental Health, Schools Can Help

Although researchers have studied the physical health risks of vaping, the consequences vaping may pose on mental health among young people is an emerging concern. Vaping has become a popular trend among teenagers in recent years, and many people exhibit growing anxiety about the negative effects vaping has on their mental health.

While most teens believe that e-cigarettes are “cool and fun” and have no bearing on their future, some research suggests that the effects of vaping are detrimental to the developing teen brain. It is important to note that e-cigarette use has been linked to greater depressive symptoms like sadness, crying spells and emotional outbursts.

Nicotine, the main component in many e-cigarettes, can alter brain chemistry and lead to addiction, which can worsen symptoms of mental illness and social isolation, which could make those symptoms worse. Teen e-cigarette users are two times more likely to receive a depression diagnosis compared to teens who have never vaped, the Truth Initiative reported. Furthermore, teens who vape may be at an increased risk of experimenting with other substances, such as alcohol and drugs, which can have further negative consequences on their mental health and well-being.

Backlight of a teenager depressed sitting inside a dirty tunnel
“Teen e-cigarette users are two times more likely to receive a depression diagnosis compared to teens who have never vaped, the Truth Initiative reported,” Casey Young writes. Photo by Depositphotos.com

Vaping is not only linked to symptoms of depression; it may also increase ADHD symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, recalling memories or making decisions. Nicotine can also increase impulsivity, making it harder for teens to control their behaviors and make sound decisions. This can lead to increased risk-taking behaviors and other negative outcomes. As a Youth Ambassador for the GENFREEMS youth program, I am personally interested in addressing this issue because school, in general, is stressful for students, and further complications such as vaping may just add to the distress.

Many people that I know use vapes as a stress reliever. Unfortunately, they don’t know that vaping may do more harm than good. If young people knew the harms of vaping, they would think twice before starting and consider quitting if they currently use them. It’s important to remember that each individual may have different experiences and reactions to vaping. Some teens may be more susceptible to negative mental-health effects than others, but it all ends in the same result: getting hooked on a substance that can alter their brain and life forever.

To fix this problem, I believe the Mississippi Board of Education and public schools should expand tobacco cessation and education materials in schools that could provide students with adequate and truthful information about vaping. It’s important for parents and teachers to provide support and resources for teens who may be struggling with mental-health issues. Our schools can provide accurate information, support early intervention and create a safer and healthier school environment.

‘Early Intervention and Prevention Are Key’

I believe that the implementation of a cessation program could help combat the issue of teen vaping. Excellent examples include the Truth Initiative’s “This Is Quitting” program, an anonymous text service designed to help teens quit vaping; and The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi’s GENFREEMS youth program, designed to address the growing vaping problem among middle schoolers and teens by giving young people the resources they need to break nicotine dependency and find healthier outlets.

Vaping education will also help foster peer support among students who are committed to staying nicotine-free. Schools can help students support each other and resist the pressure to use e-cigarettes, which would create a culture of healthier behaviors and promote positive social norms.

This is Quitting has helped more than 500,000 youth and young adults in their journeys to quit vaping. Video courtesy Truth Initiative/YouTube

Early intervention and prevention are key to promoting positive mental-health outcomes for teens. With the increased rates of teen suicides and mental-health incidents, I believe it is important to take a deeper look at the root of the problem and provide a solution to the breakdown of mental health in the teen population. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between vaping and mental health in teens.

It’s important for teens to make informed decisions about their health and to seek help if they are struggling with mental-health concerns. This help should be provided through the place where we spend much of our time: school. This effort will help the youth community because it will slow the influence of Big Tobacco and equip this generation and the next with tools to fight the negative influence of Big Tobacco and addiction. It is important for parents, educators and health-care professionals to educate teens about the dangers of vaping and to discourage its use.

Raising awareness about the dangers of vaping is an ongoing effort, and it’s important to approach the topic with empathy and understanding. If we all work together, we can help prevent the negative consequences vaping may have on teen mental health, and we can create a healthier, safer future for our communities.

This Voices essay is a collaboration between the Mississippi Free Press and The Partnership For A Healthy Mississippi’s Generation FREE program, a youth-led tobacco prevention program that empowers youth ages 12-18 to make informed decisions about tobacco use and encourages teens to fight back against the acts of big tobacco companies. 

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to azia@mississippifreepress.org. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints. 

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