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Officer Norway’s Corner – A focus on vaping, mental health

By UCHS SRO Kjell Michelsen

It’s hard to believe we have passed the halfway mark through February already, and March is just a little over a week away. With spring not too far down the road, we are already making plans at Unicoi County High School for the upcoming prom season. I won’t partake in any of the planning in regards to the prom dance itself, except for providing a secure environment for our students. Furthermore, we are once again planning to put on a mock crash enactment for the senior class as we did last year.

Another exciting thing we are planning on for later this year is to schedule a one day visit from the PEERS Foundation. Founded in 2007, the PEERS Foundation is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower young people to build healthy and prosperous lives through innovative and interactive learning programs. Last fall, during the annual Law Enforcement Challenge conference in Nashville, I was able to see their hands-on interactive presentation about the dangers of vaping.

They have an exciting yet informative event in a game show format. Giving students the tools and knowledge they need to avoid falling victim to this national epidemic that has taken hold among many of our teens. We will continue to work with organizations like the PEERS Foundation, the Unicoi Prevention Coalition, our student council, SADD national, and others to inform and raise awareness not only about substance abuse but also mental health and traffic safety.

These projects, especially vaping, have caught our attention in the last school year. We have all seen news stories of young people suffering severe, often life-altering medical conditions after having used various vaping oils and liquids that have contained dangerous chemicals. These vaping products are also present in our area, and I believe it is just a matter of time before we have similar incidents here. 

This week at our school will also shine a light on another crucial issue – mental health. The high school student council has partnered with Ballad and Frontier Health, the Unicoi Health Department, TN Suicide Prevention Network and the Unicoi Prevention Coalition. Every day this week will have a particular theme regarding mental health.

Monday was about breaking the stigma around this issue. Tuesday focused on the importance of self-care. Wednesday is about understanding anxiety and depression. Thursday will highlight all the groups and organizations that are out there to help. Friday will focus on the fact that all of us can make a difference.

Until next time, have fun, be safe, and do your part in breaking the stigma around mental health.