A review on cognitive impairments in depressive and anxiety disorders with a focus on young adults

J Affect Disord. 2008 Feb;106(1-2):1-27. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2007.06.006. Epub 2007 Aug 20.


Background: There is growing evidence for cognitive dysfunction in depressive and anxiety disorders. Nevertheless, the neuropsychological profile of young adult patients has not received much systematic investigation. The following paper reviews the existing literature on cognitive impairments in depressive and anxiety disorders particularly among young adults. Additionally, the focus of young adult age group and the effect of confounding variables on study results are discussed.

Methods: Electronic database searches were conducted to identify research articles focusing on cognitive impairments in depressive or anxiety disorders among young adults published in English during years 1990-2006.

Results: Cognitive impairments are common in young adults with major depression and anxiety disorders, although their nature remains partly unclear. Accordingly, executive dysfunction is evident in major depression, but other more specific deficits appear to depend essentially on disorder characteristics. The profile of cognitive dysfunction seems to depend on anxiety disorder subtype, but at least obsessive-compulsive disorder is associated with deficits in executive functioning and visual memory. The conflicting results may be explained by heterogeneity within study participants, such as illness status, comorbid mental disorders, and medication, and other methodological issues, including inadequate matching of study groups and varying testing procedures.

Limitations: The study is a comprehensive review, but not a formal meta-analysis, due to methodological heterogeneity.

Conclusions: Cognitive impairments are common in major depression and anxiety disorders. However, more research is needed to confirm and widen these findings, and to expand the knowledge into clinical practice. Controlling of confounding variables in future studies is highly recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents