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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Bereavement help-seeking following an 'expected' death: a cross-sectional randomised face-to-face population survey

David C Currow123*, Katrina Allen4, John Plummer5, Samar Aoun36, Meg Hegarty1 and Amy P Abernethy17

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Palliative and Supportive Services, Flinders University, Sturt Road, Bedford Park, South Australia, 5042, Australia

2 Flinders Centre for Clinical Change, Flinders University, Sturt Road, Bedford Park, South Australia, 5042, Australia

3 Institute of Palliative and Supportive Care Research, Australia

4 Southern Adelaide Palliative Services, Repatriation General Hospital, 700 Goodwood Road, Daw Park, South Australia, 5041, Australia

5 Department of Anaesthesia, Flinders Medical Centre, Bedford Park, South Australia, Australia

6 Western Australian Centre for Cancer and Palliative Care, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

7 Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Centre, Durham, North Carolina, 27710, USA

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BMC Palliative Care 2008, 7:19  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-7-19

Published: 14 December 2008



This study examines the prevalence and nature of bereavement help-seeking among the population who experienced an "expected" death in the five years before their survey response. Such whole population data are not limited by identification through previous access to specific services nor practitioners.


In a randomised, cross-sectional, state-wide population-based survey, 6034 people over two years completed face-to-face interviews in South Australia by trained interviewers using piloted questions (74.2% participation rate). Respondent demographics, type of grief help sought, and circumstantial characteristics were collected. Uni- and multi-variate logistic regression models were created.


One in three people (1965/6034) had experienced an 'expected' death of someone close to them in the last five years. Thirteen per cent sought help for their grief from one or more: friend/family members (10.7%); grief counselors (2.2%); spiritual advisers (1.9%); nurses/doctors (1.5%). Twenty five respondents (1.3%) had not sought, but would have valued help with their grief.

In multi-variate regression modeling, those who sought professional help (3.4% of the bereaved) had provided more intense care (OR 5.39; CI 1.94 to14.98; p < 0.001), identified that they were less able to 'move on' with their lives (OR 7.08; CI 2.49 to 20.13; p = 0.001) and were more likely not to be in full- or part-time work (OR 3.75; CI 2.31 – 11.82; p = 0.024; Nagelkerke's R2 = 0.33).


These data provide a whole-of-population baseline of bereavement help-seeking. The uniquely identified group who wished they had sought help is one where potentially significant health gains could be made as we seek to understand better any improved health outcomes as a result of involving bereavement services.