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09-10-2021 | Original Article Open Access

What’s Worrying Our Students? Increasing Worry Levels over Two Decades and a New Measure of Student Worry Frequency and Domains

Cognitive Therapy and Research
Graham C. L. Davey, Frances Meeten, Andy P. Field
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The frequency and severity of mental health problems in student populations have been a growing cause for concern worldwide, and studies have identified measures of a number of mental health symptoms that have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity over the past 20–25 years.


In two studies we investigate the levels and domains of pathological worrying in university student participants. Study 1 is a retrospective study of Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) data collected between 2001 and 2019. Study 2 describes the development of the Student Worry Questionnaire, a short and easily delivered measure of student worrying that identifies both frequency of worry as well as the student-relevant domains across which worrying occurs.


Study 1 revealed a steady increase in student worry scores of around 20% between 2001 and 2019, with a significant positive correlation between year of data collection and mean PSWQ score. The domain scores in Study 2 indicated that academic work was a significantly higher worry than any of the other domains, and worries about intimate relationships and ‘what people think of me’ were also worries that scored higher than either financial or health worries.


The present studies indicate that pathological worrying can be added to the list of anxiety- and stress-related symptoms that have been shown to be on the increase in student populations in recent decades, and we discuss whether these increases represent a greater willingness to report symptoms or a genuine increase in experienced symptoms over time.

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