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New Research Grant Explores Programs to Improve the Well-Being of Healthcare Professionals in Mexico
December 1, 2021

How can we protect the well-being of healthcare professionals during challenging times when they are called to act - and even put their own lives at risk?

The Center for Healthy Minds and AtentaMente are seeking answers to this question in a new research grant funded by Templeton World Charity Foundation. This grant will allow the Center and AtentaMente to integrate two character-based interventions to see if the effects of stress can be buffered in healthcare professionals in Mexico.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on all aspects of society, the pandemic has placed an extraordinary strain on health care systems and providers. Healthcare facilities are overwhelmed with patients and healthcare professionals have put themselves at risk time and time again to do their jobs. The situation for those in the healthcare field in Mexico has been particularly difficult, and strategies to support mental health for these individuals during this challenging time have been limited.

“By providing an evidence-based program to strengthen the well-being of healthcare workers, we have the opportunity to impact not only these workers but the families they serve. And we will measure the impact on both the health care providers and their clients”

Richard J. Davidson, Director of the Center for Healthy Minds

Character-based Interventions in the Study

Two character-based interventions will be integrated in this study. The Stress Toolbox for Health Providers (STH) created by AtentaMente - an in-person curriculum, and the Healthy Minds Program (HMP) developed by the Center for Healthy Minds.

The Center’s smartphone app-based meditation training, the Healthy Minds Program (HMP), takes a novel approach to the training of character strengths and well-being. Designed for real-world usability, the program includes brief podcast style lessons on the science of well-being and instruction in sitting meditation as well as “active” practices. The program is based on the four pillars of well-being which are skills that can be cultivated: awareness, connection, insight and purpose. Two wait-list randomized controlled trials, one of an eight-week version (Goldberg et al., 2020) and the other of a four-week version of the HMP (Hirshberg et al., 2021) found significant HMP-related reductions in psychological distress, and improvements in a number of character strengths, including self-compassion, mindfulness and social connection.

Matthew Hirshberg

“Prior research conducted by the Center has found that the HMP is highly effective in reducing psychological distress and increasing character strengths such as social connection, self-compassion, and mindfulness even during a global pandemic in high stress occupations like education,” said Matt Hirshberg, a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Healthy Minds. “We are excited to examine the potential for synergistic effects when combining the HMP with stress toolbox, which has also been found highly effective in reducing distress and improving well-being in pilot studies.”

AtentaMente developed the “Stress Toolbox for Health Providers” (STH), a Zoom-based, 16-hour course (eight x 2-hour weekly sessions) to strengthen character strengths in healthcare professionals to improve mental health, resilience and well-being. The program has been successfully implemented with over 3,200 Mexican HCPs thus far, demonstrating high acceptability, adherence and perceived utility. In the most recent implementation with 502 healthcare providers, preliminary pre- and post-STH data indicated large magnitude reductions in stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and burnout.

“A few months into the pandemic, it became evident that healthcare providers were taking a big toll on their lives to protect us. We felt compelled to offer whatever we had to help them better cope with the situation, protecting their mental health and well-being."

Leandro Chernicoff, AtentaMente Co-founder and Academic Research Director
Leandro Chernicoff

"We felt extremely happy seeing that the STH was very well received and that we were finding large magnitude reductions in stress, burnout, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. The STH is truly our quintessential distilled intervention,” said Leandro Chernicoff, AtentaMente Co-founder and Academic Research Director.

The two organizations will construct and optimize a 12-week character-based, mental health and well-being training designed for Mexican HCPs that is culturally relevant, accessible, easy to use, and scalable. The efficacy of the resulting Integrated Stress Toolbox for Healthcare Providers (ISTH) will be examined in a large, randomized wait-list controlled trial of 4,000 Mexican HCPs in four states. The data resulting from this study will comprise one of the largest datasets on character development ever collected, and provide important information about the impacts of the ISTH on character strength development, mental health, well-being, stress biology, and job performance.

“I feel that this collaborative research project between CHM and AtentaMente represents a synergistic alliance between research and curriculum development excellence and skilled on-the-ground implementation in Mexico,” said Chernicoff. “It is an exciting opportunity to leverage our complementary strengths to further benefit others. We are thrilled with this unique opportunity!”

-Sara Ifert