Objective To compare the prevalence of psychological discomfort in four groups of young people of different social status (metalworkers exposed and not exposed to mental health occupational risks, individuals unemployed or seeking their first job and full-time students). The study also evaluates among the same groups, six years after, the changes in status and in the rates of psychological discomfort. Design – The subjects, selected through an appropriate random procedure, are males, aged between twenty and twenty-nine, resident in the same geographical area for at least 10 years and still living with their families. 157 young men were involved, divided into the following four groups: metalworkers exposed to mental health occupational risks (n° = 30); metalworkers «not exposed» (n° = 57); unemployed (n° = 40); full-time students (n° = 30).
The prevalence of psychological discomfort has been compared in the four groups; six years after, within 116 subjects participating in the follow-up study, the changes in status and in psychological discomfort have been examinated. Setting – The survey was conducted in Cento (Ferrara, Northern Italy), an area with a healthy local economy and a comparatively low unemployment rate. In 1987 and in 1993 all young men were interviewed at home, after telephone contact, by the same psychologist. Main outcome measures - In the 1987 survey, to each subject were administered a «Social Position and Health Schedule» (SPH) and a previously validated questionnaire, to determine the index of psychological discomfort (IDP).
Through the «Occupational Risk Questionnaire» (ORQ) the metalworkers were also divided into two groups (exposed and not exposed to mental health occupational risks).
In 1993 the participants in the follow-up completed the same «IDP-Questionnaire» and a «Social and Occupational Position Schedule» (SOP) to give detailed informations on both labour turn-over and/or shifts in social status over the six years period. Results – In the 1987 survey significantly higher frequencies and averages were found in the group of metalworkers exposed to mental health risks, while no statistically significant results were noted in the other groups, including the group of unemployed. The main finding of the follow-up study relates to those metalworkers who, in the follow-up period, have changed their manual job to another type of employment and whose score visa-vis psychological discomfort was better than the rest of the group. Our findings indicate also that those young men seeking their first job who had found employment during the follow-up period, experienced an increase in psychological discomfort. Conclusion The most interesting aspect of our survey seems to concern the relationships between occupational prospects and mental health among young men living in an area characterized by a healthy local economy. Further studies on the students and the unemployed (and their possible occupational outcomes) are however needed.