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Getting Your First COVID Shot Can Boost Mental Health: Study

FRIDAY, Sept. 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- When you got your first COVID-19 jab, did you breathe a sigh of relief? If so, you're not alone.

U.S. adults who got the vaccine between December 2020 and March 2021 experienced a 4% reduction in their risk of being mildly depressed and a 15% drop in their risk of severe depression, researchers reported Sept. 8 in the journal PLOS ONE.

"People who got vaccinated experienced a reduction in mental distress, suggesting that the relief of reduced health risk translates into a reduction in stress," said lead researcher Francisco Perez-Arce, a Washington, D.C.-based economist with the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research.

For this study, Perez-Arce and his colleagues surveyed participants in the Understanding America Study, an ongoing look at more than 8,000 adults across the nation.

Starting when the vaccines became available in December, the survey asked panelists whether they had gotten their COVID shot. The participants also completed a four-point questionnaire designed to provide a quick look at their levels of anxiety and depression.

Researchers found people who hadn't been vaccinated by March tended to have higher levels of anxiety and depression than those who got the shot in the first waves of vaccine distribution.

In fact, the levels started to diverge, with people who hadn't been vaccinated getting more anxious and those with at least one dose feeling more relief, results showed.

However, it's important to note that the vaccine-prompted relief found in this study was among people at greater risk for contracting COVID or succumbing to serious illness or death.

"We looked at people who got vaccinated before the end of March. This includes people who were very willing or people who had more perceived risks," Perez-Arce said.

Elderly people, front-line workers and health care professionals mostly got vaccinated during this time period, said Dr. Ludmila De Faria, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Women's Mental Health.

"I know I felt a sense of relief of my anxiety," said De Faria, who was among the first to get the vaccine. "Suddenly, being in the hospital and treating patients wasn't a dire prospect anymore. I felt I had an extra layer of protection."

People in later waves, including those who were initially vaccine-hesitant, might not feel the same sense of relief when they got their dose, Perez-Arce and De Faria said.

They added that other things also might explain the reduced anxiety among those who were vaccinated early, including an increase in socializing, better job prospects, and the receipt of stimulus checks intended to quell economic fears.

There's also a chance that people who felt initial relief from their vaccination have since become more anxious, given the rise of the Delta variant, Perez-Arce added.

"I don't know, but I would think that very possibly could be the case, that even these people who improved their mental health may have worsened as the perceived and real risks from Delta have increased," he said.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more on COVID and your mental health.

SOURCES: Francisco Perez-Arce, PhD, economist, University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research, Washington, D.C.; Ludmila De Faria, MD, chair, American Psychiatric Association Committee on Women's Mental Health; PLOS ONE, Sept. 8, 2021

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