Getting the coronavirus vaccine provides one obvious and significant health benefit: It protects you from getting seriously sick or dying if you come into contact with the virus.
That, in itself, is amazing. But new research published on Wednesday points to another striking benefit of rolling up your sleeves that should not be dismissed: People who get vaccinated may experience significant improvements in their mental health.
In the study, published in the journal PLoS One, researchers tracked people who received a first dose of any coronavirus vaccine between December 2020 and March 2021.
They found that those who had received a shot were less likely to show signs of mild or severe depression than those who had not been vaccinated, including those who intended to get vaccinated but had not yet been able to.
And given that mental health is every bit as important as physical health, it’s yet another reason for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
How the pandemic has hurt people’s mental health
National surveys taken at various points throughout the past 18 months of the pandemic have pointed to worrisome increases in mental health issues, often coinciding with case surges.
In summer 2020, for example, roughly 4 in 10 of American adults indicated they were struggling with mental health concerns or substance abuse. That’s up from about 1 in 10 adults prior to the pandemic.
And experts have warned since the pandemic began that it was adding to the chronic stress of millions of Americans who were already disadvantaged prior to COVID, calling it a “national crisis.”
“As was the case prior to the pandemic, adults in poor general health (which may reflect both physical and mental health) continue to report higher rates of anxiety and/or depression than adults in good general health,” a February Kaiser Family Foundation report warned.
Why vaccination might help
Of course, there are many reasons mental health concerns have been on the rise during the pandemic, from widespread job losses to loneliness.
And the new study cannot say exactly why people who roll up their sleeves appear to experience a mental health boost, but its authors say it’s likely a combination of factors.
People who are vaccinated may be less worried about getting infected. They might be more active socially, or try out new work opportunities, the researchers write. Prior studies do show that isolation has been a major factor in people’s mental health during the pandemic, which is one reason medical groups have pushed hard to get children back in classrooms this fall, for example.
The new findings by no means suggest vaccination is a panacea, or that getting more people to roll up their sleeves will provide millions of Americans with the mental health support they need. The study’s authors write that their findings should simply be understood as the “short-term direct effects of getting a first vaccine dose.”
Still, they note the overall mental health effect of vaccination might actually be larger than the study was able to capture, as it could extend to non-vaccinated people as well. People who are not vaccinated themselves might still feel less fear and worry about loved ones getting sick or dying and may benefit from social and economic opportunities afforded by widespread vaccination, the authors write.
Which just goes to show once again that vaccination isn’t just about your own health; it’s about improving health outcomes for us all.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.