There are many reasons to care for your mental health. It makes you happier, improves your moods, and even your relationships. Despite these well-known positives, if you are still on the fence about the importance of prioritizing mental health, it may be time to change your stance.
New research published last week in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found that mental health concerns like stress, depression and anxiety can reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
“In addition to the physical toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” said Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University and lead author on the paper.
“Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviors and emotional stressors can alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response. The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors.”
One could think that these factors don’t matter, as those manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines have been touting a ‘95% success rate’ of the various vaccines that have been approved. How each individual develops the immunity once vaccinated though, could be altered due to their mental health. The study found that poor mental health can increase the time it takes for our body to develop immunity to the virus once we get our shots. Additionally, it can reduce the amount of time our body is immune to COVID-19.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. As one of Madison’s colleagues notes, “The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable. It’s possible to do some simple things to maximize the vaccine’s initial effectiveness.”
These include rather traditional ways of exercising and sleeping properly to get your immune system working in peak condition. You can also try to reduce ‘pandemic stress’ by using this toolkit.
“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective,” said Madison. “Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors.”