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Youth living with HIV have sub-optimal rates of adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART). Mindfulness instruction interventions have shown promise for improving medication adherence, but the effects and mechanisms of these interventions are still being explored among people living with HIV, including youth. In the context of a randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program on ART adherence and viral suppression among youth living with HIV, we conducted 44 iterative, semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 20 study participants (13–24 years) recruited from clinics at two academic centers in Baltimore, Maryland. Interviews explored the social context and psychosocial dynamics of ART adherence in the context of the MBSR intervention, compared with those in a control arm. We employed thematic content analysis to systematically code and synthesize textual interview data. Participants’ challenges with ART adherence were often situated within an ongoing process of working to manage HIV as a stigmatized, chronic condition in addition to other intersecting social stigmas, inequalities, and stressors. Participation in the MBSR program and related group support allowed participants to non-judgmentally observe and accept difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences associated with living with HIV and taking ART, which facilitated greater reported adherence. Mindfulness training may stimulate new perspectives and understanding, including greater self- and illness-acceptance among youth living with HIV, leading to improved HIV outcomes.

Interest in mindfulness as a tool to improve health and well-being has increased rapidly over the past two decades. Limited qualitative research has been conducted on mindfulness and health. This study utilized in-depth interviews to explore the context, perceptions, and experiences of a sub-set of participants engaged in an acceptability study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) among urban youth. Content analysis revealed that all in-depth interview participants reported experiencing some form of positive benefit and enhanced self-awareness as a result of MBSR program participation. Significant variation in the types and intensity of changes occurring was identified, ranging from a reframing and reduction of daily stressors to transformational shifts in life orientation and well-being. Variations in perceptions of and experiences with mindfulness should be studied in further depth in the context of prospective intervention research, including their potentially differential influence on mental and physical health outcomes.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has been shown to improve health outcomes across populations. We explored the feasibility, acceptability, and initial effects of a pilot MBSR program at a highly-ranked university in the United States. We conducted 23 in-depth interviews with 13 students. Interviews explored stressors and coping mechanisms, experiences with MBSR, and its reported impact and potential future use. Interviews were analyzed using thematic content and narrative analyses. Results indicated that students are exposed to a very high level of constant stress related to the sheer amount of work and activities that they have and the pervasive surrounding university culture of perfectionism. MBSR offered an opportunity to step back and gain perspective on issues of balance and priorities and provided concrete techniques to counter the effects of stressors. We conclude that MBSR and mindfulness programs may contribute to more supportive university learning environments and greater health and well-being among students.