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Integrating qualitative methods into occupational health research: a study of women flight attendants
  1. T J Ballard1,
  2. L Corradi2,
  3. L Lauria1,
  4. C Mazzanti1,
  5. G Scaravelli1,
  6. F Sgorbissa3,
  7. P Romito3,
  8. A Verdecchia1
  1. 1Italian National Institute of Health, Rome, Italy
  2. 2University of Calabria, Italy
  3. 3University of Trieste, Italy
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr L Lauria
 Italian Institute of Health, Viale Regina Elena, 299, Rome 00161, Italy;


Aims: To identify possible work related sources of psychosocial stress in order to develop pertinent questionnaire items for a cross-sectional health survey of 3000 Italian women flight attendants, and to solicit suggestions on improving survey participation.

Methods: Qualitative study in which 26 current and former women flight attendants participated: three focus groups of 6–7 participants each and six in-depth individual interviews. The session themes included positive and negative aspects of the job; relationships with colleagues, superiors, and passengers; perception of occupational risk for serious diseases; compatibility of work and family; and experiences of work related sources of stress and their effect on health. A transcript based analysis of the focus groups and interviews was used to identify emerging themes related to risk factors for mental health problems.

Results: The participants indicated that mental health was a major concern. Several work related risk factors possibly related to adverse outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, were highlighted. These included isolation and solitude, fears of being inadequate partners and mothers due to job demands, passenger relationships, and lack of protection by employers with respect to workplace exposures and violent passengers. The information gained was used to develop a mental health module for inclusion in the health survey questionnaire which included questions on history of severe depression or anxiety, suicidal ideation or attempt, substance abuse, workplace sexual harassment, social support, leisure time activities, relationship with a partner, and role as mother.

Conclusions: Employing qualitative methods to identify work related sources of psychosocial stress enabled development of pertinent questionnaire items for a cross-sectional epidemiological study of women flight attendants. Follow up qualitative research may be necessary in order to put the cross-sectional study findings into context and to explore actions or strategies for preventing work related health problems evidenced from the survey.

  • women
  • flight attendants
  • qualitative research
  • mental health
  • occupation

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