Could Vaping Be Making the Youth Mental Health Crisis Worse?

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The number of kids vaping is going up again as the number of youth with at least one major depressive episode in the last year is also on the rise, and doctors say the two may be related.

Studies, including some at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, show nicotine is especially dangerous before the brain is fully developed, which happens around age 25.

"The providers here at Yale Medicine, as well as the researchers, we're all seeing these links between vaping and mental health symptoms in children," Dr. Deepa Camenga said.

Dr. Camenga is a pediatrician and addiction medicine specialist and says what makes things worse is the almost cruel paradox nicotine presents as some children may use it to try to feel better, which ultimately feeds a cycle of craving more.

“Nicotine, in the short term, sometimes relieves symptoms of anxiety, but over the long term we know withdrawal can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression," Camenga said.

Unfortunately, when a child feels better in the short term, it can delay them getting the mental health services they need. Evidence from the Yale studies is empirical, but a West Hartford couple, Deb and Jon, say they have anecdotal evidence backing it up.

The parents of three say their first concern was the effects of vaping on their kids' physical health, but it quickly became apparent that it can take an emotional toll.

"Our kids have had some serious anxiety and some depression, and it's hard to see, you know, chicken or egg," Deb said. "I don't know if it comes before or after, or just exacerbates it, but we definitely have seen it."

Both parents say it's been difficult to watch and try to help.

"Just the natural anxiety from what they're dealing with every day, and now you have a chemical that's pushed you into something else,"Jon said.

Deb and Jon want all of us to know there are resources available to help, like Parents Against Vaping, the American Lung Association, as well as your child's pediatrician.

Dr. Camenga tells NBC Connecticut that Yale School of Medicine also has a program called the APT Foundation that addresses a full range of substance misuse issues, including mental health services.

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