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The Relation Between Worry and Mental Health in Nonclinical Population and Individuals with Anxiety and Depressive Disorders: A Meta-Analysis



Although worry is well-known to share a robust relationship with psychopathology, whether this association is higher in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) versus other anxiety disorders and depressive disorder, and clinical versus nonclinical populations is unclear.


We conducted a meta-analysis in which the association between worry and various mental health indicators was quantitatively summarized using a random-effects model; additionally, several moderators were tested.


Results synthesizing data from 120 correlational studies (138 independent samples) conducted over the past 35 years indicate a strong association between worry and poor mental health (r = .53) but also high heterogeneity. This association was not systematically impacted by the study population or whether individuals had a diagnosis of GAD or major depressive disorder (MDD). Participants’ age and how worry and mental health were measured moderated this association.


The main findings suggest that (1) worry is strongly associated with poor mental health, (2) worry is associated with poor mental health even outside of GAD and clinical populations included in the current meta-analysis, and (3) there are differences in this association across the lifespan. Overall, the results from this meta-analysis support earlier calls for intense worry to be assessed and treated, regardless of whether the individual has a diagnosis of GAD or MDD.

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  1. We initially aimed to review experimental studies in which induced worry was contrasted to a neutral induction group in a separate analysis. We identified three experimental studies that met all our inclusion criteria (i.e., Llera & Newman, 2010, 2014; McLaughlin et al., 2007). Because of the low number of studies, we were not able to get a meta-analytic estimate for these studies. Moreover, we decided to not consider these studies in the omnibus analysis computed on observational studies based on the differences in the study design and worry dimensions being assessed (Ruscio & Borkovec, 2004).

  2. Other worry measures that were used in less than five samples per measure.


*References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the meta-analysis.

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The authors wish to thank Lea Rhyner for her assistance with the literature search and coding.


This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant PP00P1_163702, PP00P1_190083, recipient: Christoph Flückiger).

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AV and CF designed the study and wrote the meta-analytic protocol. AV and CS conducted literature searches, provided summaries of previous research, and coded the study characteristics. AV conducted the analyses in consultation with CF. AV wrote the first draft of the manuscript and critical feedback was provided by CS, EW, RZ, and CF. All authors have approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andreea Vîslă.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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No human subjects were involved in this review article.

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No animal studies were carried out for this study.

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Vîslă, A., Stadelmann, C., Watkins, E. et al. The Relation Between Worry and Mental Health in Nonclinical Population and Individuals with Anxiety and Depressive Disorders: A Meta-Analysis. Cogn Ther Res 46, 480–501 (2022).

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  • Worry
  • Transdiagnostic
  • Mental health
  • Anxiety
  • Depression