Careers in law enforcement can be dangerous in more ways than one. Research suggests that law enforcement officers experience higher rates of mental health disorders such as depression, PTSD, and substance abuse in addition to physical health problems like insomnia, heart disease and diabetes. Given that norms in the profession value stoicism, many officers may not seek help in coping with problems related to work stress. We’re exploring how mindfulness training may affect the well-being of officers, with the potential to have a ripple effect to benefit the communities they serve.
In addition to the daily risk of exposure to acute traumatic events, police officers face high levels of chronic organizational stressors and are the object of much public scrutiny and criticism. These stressors can have an erosive effect on physical and mental well-being, as police officers face elevated rates of cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many officers, however, exhibit tremendous resilience in the face of extreme occupational stress. What are the factors that allow for such resilience, and can we train and cultivate these skills and qualities of mind in other officers?
In collaboration with local law enforcement agencies, Center scientists are studying the impact of a mindfulness-based training program – which has been adapted specifically for law enforcement personnel – on a variety of outcomes including sleep quality, perceived stress, psychological symptoms, burnout and inflammatory biomarkers.
An initial pilot study with officers from the Madison Police Department (MPD) established the feasibility and acceptability of this training. We are currently conducting a multi-year randomized controlled trial with additional agencies, including the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and the UW-Madison Police Department, that will rigorously test this program’s efficacy, evaluate long-term follow-up measures, and investigate the impact of this training on officers’ daily work.
By equipping officers with practical tools to proactively combat stress and enhance well-being, we believe this program will allow officers to serve more effectively as community guardians, resulting in cascading benefits throughout the communities these officers serve. In collaboration with Dane County law enforcement agencies that embrace progressive policing initiatives, we hope that this work will have a meaningful impact on larger national efforts to reform policing for the 21st century.