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Exploring the Effects of Mindfulness Training on Police Officer Resilience and Well-Being

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.  

Study Details

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.

People Working on This Study

Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Dan Grupe
Associate Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Chad Mc Gehee Web
Chad McGehee
Learning and Program Development Manager, Healthy Minds Innovations
Melissa Rosenkranz
Melissa Rosenkranz
Affiliate Faculty at the Center for Healthy Minds, Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Neuroscience, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Ted Imoff Smith
Ted Imhoff-Smith
Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds

Media Related to this Project

Officer Zen-dly
Nov 29, 2017
In an interview with Dan Grupe, an assistant scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds, discusses the pilot study examining the effects of mindfulness-based training on a small group of Madison police officers
Mindful Policing: The Future of Force
Jun 14, 2017
With police violence—and public scrutiny— on the rise, cities turn to mindfulness to help officers deal with the stress of the job. A study from the Center for Healthy Minds will gauge the impact of mindfulness practices on police officers.
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