A new US study has found that the people who have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are less likely to experience stress. Indian doctors affirm that there is a short term effect of vaccination in boosting mental health as highlighted by the study.
However, the Indian doctors emphasized the lack of a similar study in India, which could establish a correlation between vaccination and its impact on mental health.
The research by the Centre for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the University of Southern California published recently a study in the journal PLOS that stated, "Getting the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine resulted in significant improvements in mental health beyond improvement already achieved since mental distress peaked in spring 2020."
The researchers analyzed 8,003 adults who were, surveyed at regular intervals between March 10, 2020, and March 31, 2021. It found out that "people who were vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021 reported decreased mental distress levels in the surveys conducted after receiving the first dose."
Talking about the US study, Dr Nand Kumar, professor and in-charge, ICMR CARE in Neuromodulation for Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry, AIIMS, New Delhi said, "I think they have covered a good sample. They have covered over 8000 people. It is a good study. But, for vaccines per se, there is no scientific data that says that there is any biological effect of the vaccine that can boost mental health. But vaccine certainly helps in improving mental health in general."
Dr Kumar noted that it is not easy to compare the people who are vaccinated and who are not vaccinated on their mental health.
"They have looked at the short term effects of vaccination. There have used mental health questionnaire. It's not very easy to compare the people who are vaccinated and who are not vaccinated on their mental health. You need a very robust kind of randomized controlled trial. The short term is fine. A long term study requires logistic support and good funding and design. If the short term effect of the study is concerned, then, I agree with it," he stated.
"Certainly vaccination has improved mental health not directly but indirectly by boosting people confidence about safety that they are vaccinated and they are safe. People have become more outgoing, confident in going out and meeting people. The fear of the pandemic and that they will be affected by the virus has come down significantly. Before vaccination, there were anxiety, apprehension and fear of getting infected, fear of death," Dr Kumar added.
Sharing his observation, Dr Jaswant Jangra, Senior resident Psychiatry at AIIMS New Delhi noted that people have become assured after getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
"The people, I have observed have become assured after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, that they won't get admitted in hospital due to the infection, that their chance of mortality would decrease after taking the COVID- 19 vaccine," said Dr Jangra.
He said that he observed that his patients, especially the ones who have completed both the doses of vaccines are now feeling a bit relaxed and their relapses are less.
"The stress levels and anxiety level pertaining to COVID- 19 is much less," noted Dr Jangra.
"However, India has not done any specific studies so far and there is a need for such studies to show a positive correlation between vaccination and mental health," he added.
Sharing his insight on the US study, a Psychiatrist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Dr Rajeev Mehta said, "This is not a direct effect of vaccines rather it's the impact of getting vaccinated. And it is true that it decreases anxiety levels."
The purpose of the study was to examine short-term changes in mental distress after the first inoculation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The researchers who undertook the study said the results should be interpreted as the short-term direct effects of getting a first vaccine dose.
"The overall contribution of vaccine uptake on improving mental health outcomes is potentially much larger, as it affects not only those vaccinated but also the unvaccinated," stated the study.
An unvaccinated individual may still benefit from the reduced prevalence rates in the population, may become less worried about loved ones, and may benefit from increased social and economic opportunities if the vaccine rollout results in more social and economic activity due to lower disease risk, added the study.
The experts also talked about the vaccine hesitancy that the people experienced when the vaccine rollout began. People with mental illness were the worst affected.
"People with obsessive fear, anxiety disorder had a lot of stress regarding COVID-19. Initially, they had apprehension before vaccination. They asked me whether we should go for vaccination or not. They stressed contraindications on vaccines. However, I always suggested they go for it," said Dr Jangra.
"A lot of my patients had anxiety whether the jab will produce any result or its just eyewash. Even when people started going for vaccination, there were rumours that soon after getting their vaccine jab, people are got the infection, however, it is false as, it might have been because the people did not follow social distancing, or they mingled with someone who has contracted COVID or has not sanitized their hands properly while waiting in the crowd that came to vaccinate themselves," said Dr Mehta.
"This misbelieve also created a lot of anxiety among people who generally avoided getting vaccinated or kept postponing it," added Dr Mehta.
About half of the population faced the psychological impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Poor sleep quality (40 per cent), stress (34 per cent), and psychological distress (34 per cent) were the most reported problems across various studies, stated a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, on the prevalence of psychological morbidities among the general population, healthcare workers, and COVID-19 patients.
Dr Kumar in this regard added, "There were relapses in the mental health patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they were not able to meet, there was no socialization, there was intense anxiety among people regarding the disease".
"About two-fifths (38.2 per cent) had anxiety and 10.5 per cent of the participants had depression. Overall, 40.5per cent of the participants had either anxiety or depression.
Moderate level of stress was reported by about three-fourth (74.1 per cent) of the participants and 71.7 per cent reported poor well-being," stated Psychological impact of COVID-19 lockdown: An online survey from India under the aegis of the Indian Psychiatry Society.