Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine Could Improve Mental Health, Report Shows

older man getting a vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread mental distress.
  • As the vaccination campaign continues in the U.S. and around the world, study findings suggest that getting the vaccine may improve mental health.
  • Survey respondents experienced a 15% decrease in the likelihood of feeling very depressed after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

New survey findings published in the journal PLOS ONE suggest that people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 saw improvements to their mental health, including reduced stress.

“Very early on in the pandemic, in March of 2020, we at the Center for Economic and Social Research at University of Southern California started a panel to track the multiple impacts of the pandemic on several outcomes, including mental health,” says researcher Francisco Perez-Arce, PhD.

These findings are useful as psychologists navigate the path towards helping people overcome the mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, but more research is needed to apply them in an effective way.

The Findings in Detail 

The panelists, who are respondents from the Understanding America Study, answer surveys every two weeks or so. “This has allowed us to track trajectories in many variables, such as mental health and vaccination status,” explains Perez-Arce. His team studies the impact of getting the vaccine on levels of mental distress among people who got vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021.

“Looking at the impact of getting vaccinated allows us to study the extent to which reducing your own health risks relieves mental distress,” Perez-Arce adds.

Francisco Perez-Arce, PhD

Looking at the impact of getting vaccinated allows us to study the extent to which reducing your own health risks relieves mental distress.

— Francisco Perez-Arce, PhD

The survey respondents experienced a 15% decrease in the likelihood of feeling “severely depressed” after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, plus a 4% reduction in the likelihood of feeling “mildly depressed.” Based on their data, the researchers estimate that 1 million people have experienced mental health improvements after being vaccinated.

Crucially, people who got vaccinated during the study period experienced a reduction in the levels of mental distress. “This suggests that reducing the health risks associated with COVID-19 have the potential to improve mental health,” says Perez-Arce.

This Isn’t the Full Picture

Perez-Arce points out that the results only capture the reduction in mental distress after receiving a shot for oneself, and not the overall effect of the vaccination campaign. “I can give myself as an example,” he says. “I wasn’t vaccinated during the study period because I was not yet eligible. So if I had been a respondent of the survey, I would be in the ‘control’ group, but I certainly was becoming relieved from fears and experiencing less worry just by knowing that family, neighbors, health care providers, children’s teachers, etc. were getting vaccinated.”

In that sense, Perez-Arce believes that what the researchers are capturing in this ongoing study (more surveys will be sent out to establish how people feel about the prospect of infection by variants and how they might feel after receiving booster shots) is likely to have been a small part of the overall impact of the vaccination campaign on mental health.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health

The mental health burden of the pandemic is undeniable. “This virus has inundated our media and daily conversations with one another,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers. “Due to warranted safety measures to flatten the curve, children, adolescents, and adults have endured various, traumatic changes.”

Dr. Magavi notes that people respond in different ways to the emotional and mental pressures of living in COVID-19 times, depending on their temperament and baseline mental health status. “I have observed new-onset anxiety and depression in some, but those with psychiatric concerns have been struggling the most,” she reveals.

As a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who evaluates individuals of all ages and backgrounds, Dr. Magavi believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most people in every arena of their life. “I do believe that this is a public health crisis,” she says.

Leela R. Magavi, MD

Individuals who are vaccinated may experience less anxiety about contracting COVID-19, spreading illness, or losing loved ones. This may result in improved sleep, energy, and concentration.

— Leela R. Magavi, MD

Vaccinated clients of all ages have told Dr. Magavi told her how happy they are to see and spend time with family and friends again. “Many have said that reuniting with their family again elicits feelings of happiness that overshadow even the most important days of their life such as their graduation and wedding,” she says.

A big part of this is avoiding debilitating feelings of loneliness. Plus, time spent with loved ones can motivate people to remain accountable and consequently make healthier lifestyle choices, foster creativity, and break the monotony of ruminative thinking and ritualistic behavior, Dr. Magavi explains.

“Individuals who are vaccinated may experience less anxiety about contracting COVID-19, spreading illness, or losing loved ones,” she adds. “This may result in improved sleep, energy, and concentration.”

The benefits of getting vaccinated are well documented, and Perez-Arce acknowledges that this study may not have direct implications in decision-making in the health sector. “However, it is important to understand the mechanisms through which the pandemic has affected mental health in the population, and the important role that reducing risks through vaccination can play to improve mental health,” he says.

What This Means For You

Feeling anxious or concerned about COVID-19 outbreaks and the impact of the pandemic on your life is perfectly normal. It might help to share your worries with a trusted friend or family member. But if you think you are experiencing mental distress to the extent that it’s affecting your daily life, make an appointment with your doctor.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Perez-Arce F, Angrisani M, Bennett D, Darling J, Kapteyn A, Thomas K. COVID-19 vaccines and mental distress. PLoS One. 2021;16(9):e0256406. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0256406

  2. University of Southern California. Want less pandemic stress? Consider getting vaccinated.

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more.