This study assessed the impact of mindfulness training on police officer stress, mental health, and salivary cortisol levels.
Unaddressed occupational stress and trauma contribute to elevated rates of mental illness and suicide in policing, and to violent and aggressive behavior that disproportionately impacts communities of color. Emerging evidence suggests mindfulness training with police may reduce stress and aggression and improve mental health, but there is limited evidence for changes in biological outcomes or the lasting benefits of mindfulness training. The current study conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 114 police officers from three Midwestern U.S. law enforcement agencies. It assessed stress-related physical and mental health symptoms, blood-based inflammatory markers, and hair and salivary cortisol. Participants were then randomized to an 8-week mindfulness intervention or waitlist control (WLC), and the same assessments were repeated post-intervention and at 3-month follow-up. Relative to waitlist controls, the mindfulness group had greater improvements in psychological distress, mental health symptoms, and sleep quality post-training, gains that were maintained at 3-month follow-up. Intervention participants also had a significantly lower cortisol awakening response (CAR) at 3-month follow-up relative to waitlist control. Contrary to hypotheses, there were no intervention effects on hair cortisol, diurnal cortisol slope, or inflammatory markers. In summary, an 8-week mindfulness intervention for police officers led to self-reported improvements in distress, mental health, and sleep, and a lower CAR. These benefits persisted (or emerged) at 3-month follow-up, suggesting that this training may buffer against the long-term consequences of chronic stress. Future research should assess the persistence of these benefits over a longer period while expanding the scope of outcomes to consider the broader community of mindfulness training for police. (Publisher Abstract)