A study published early this month reveals getting the first dose of COVID-19 resulted in significant improvements in mental health, beyond improvements already achieved since mental distress peaked in the spring of 2020.
The study, published in medical journal PLOS ONE, surveyed 8,003 adults between March 2020 and March 2021 and examined short-term changes in mental distress following the receipt of the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Respondents answered questions about COVID-19 vaccine status and self-reported mental distress as measured with the four-item Patient Health Questionnaire. Results determined those who were vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021 reported decreased mental distress levels in the surveys conducted after receiving the first dose.
The study informs several factors have contributed to the rise in mental health problems throughout the pandemic. Some studies have suggested that economic concerns were the most strongly associated with worsening mental health, while concerns about their own health and social distance were also correlated though less strongly.
The improvement in economic conditions and the release of public economic support in the form of unemployment insurance and stimulus checks may have been a factor in the recovery of mental health since April 2020. Studies from the report also show that sleep problems were common during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was associated with depression among the general population.
Christus Trinity Clinic Primary Care Physician specializing in internal medicine Mark Vig, shared his experience in treating those with a mental health condition. He said what he sees ranged from situational adjustment disorders to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia and confirmed that those experiencing mental health struggles because of worries revolving around COVID-19 and the vaccine, feel an improvement after getting the vaccine, adding it adds safety.
Vig explained last year in the fall, mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression, worsened around the time of political elections, different race issues, police issues, and COVID-19.
“This year, there’s been an increase in anxiety and depression especially this summer as there’s been this surge with the Delta variant, not only as far as patients, but as far as the health staff as well,” Vig said.
He said initially, there’s been a lot of anxiety to get the vaccine, but for other people, a relief in their anxiety is seen once they receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Vig said one thing that contributes to heightened levels of anxiety toward the vaccine is from misinformation concerning the vaccine’s safety and the fact that it’s become politicized.
“People have so much anxiety because they think it’s new, not knowing what it will do to them. It’s important they speak with their physician so they can try to get the misinformation expelled so they know the true benefits to getting the vaccine,” he said.
When patients share they’re not interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine or that they’re anxious to get it, Vig said he asks the patient why, hopefully getting them to open up, which allows him to respond to the concern with information.
“I hope and wish that everybody would get the vaccine. It’s their decision in the end, but in order to help us get through this, we’re going to have to see a lot more people be vaccinated,” Vig said.
Vig said he’s responded to patients who reach out with questions about the vaccine.
“You can feel that they want to get it, they’re just scared to get it,” he said. “I just try to be a resource. Even if they say they’re not ready to get the vaccine because they’re still anxious, just try to be open saying, ‘If you do have a question, feel free to call back, send me a MyChart message’,” he said.
Risks of not getting the COVID-19 vaccine include contracting the COVID-19 virus. Vig informed those with family members who aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine yet, such as children, are also being put at risk, and recommends the vaccine to protect those people.
In Tyler hospitals, NET Health reported Monday there are approximately 331 patients receiving treatment for the virus. Vig said 95% of those patients are unvaccinated and that 90% of positive tests in the community are also unvaccinated.
Vig said from his patient handle, he has not had patients come back to see him due to getting the vaccine. He explained benefits associated with getting rid of some patients’ vaccine anxiety.
“One third of people who get covid have problems with the long-hauler symptoms after. If you don’t get (the vaccine), even if you do get covid and you don’t have severe disease, you can have long-term effects from this,” he said.
About 5 to 80% of people have ranges of long-term effects after getting the virus. Some are resolved within three months, but others can last for varying amounts of time, Vig said.
As any vaccine, Vig said minor symptoms can be expected, he said, because of the body developing the immune response. He said they may last a day or two.
Vig recalls family members sharing stories of getting the polio vaccine in the 1900’s. He said everybody was willing to do it back then.
“If people really understood that it went through the exact same steps of making the vaccine, and the approval steps they had to go through with phase one, phase two, phase three trials, to be approved, that it’s gone through the same steps that other medical drugs have, I would hope that would make people feel more comfortable,” Vig said.
He added there are people on vitamins and supplements that aren’t FDA monitored.
“People feel so comfortable just going to their local drug store to take these supplements they think might help them, whereas these vaccines are actually going through these necessary steps to show they’re safe whereas someone who’s just taking a multivitamin everyday doesn’t have that same safety net,” Vig explained.
The mRNA vaccines have been around for about 10 years now, and most people think they started just last year, Vig said, though coronaviruses have been around for many years.
“There’s many things we could do to protect ourselves and I think in getting that vaccine, that extra step does take a big weight off of their shoulders so they can feel better,” he said. He said at the Christus Health system, all they can do is give their patients information about the vaccine and help them reach a decision they’re comfortable with.