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Open Access Research article

Identifying obstacles to participation in a questionnaire survey on widowers' grief

Bragi Skulason1* and Asgeir R Helgason12

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health and Education, Reykjavík University, (Menntavegur 1) Reykjavik (IS101), Iceland

2 Department of Public Health Sciences, Social Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm (SE17177), Sweden

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BMC Palliative Care 2010, 9:7  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-9-7

Published: 29 April 2010



The aim of this study was to determine if Icelandic widowers might foresee obstacles to responding to a questionnaire on bereavement. Also, we sought to compare the proportion of men reporting obstacles in a telephone interview to the actual response rate in the questionnaire survey.


The study was part of a nation-wide survey of widowers who lost their wives in 1999, 2000, and 2001. This included all widowers born in Iceland 1924-1969 (aged 30-75 years) who were alive, and residing in Iceland at the time of the study. A telephone poll was conducted prior to sending out a questionnaire to determine if the widowers would be interested in responding, or if they could see obstacles, which could affect their willingness to respond to a subsequent questionnaire survey. The telephone poll was repeated five years later with a random sample of the original study base to determine if views initially expressed towards the questionnaire survey, had changed over time.


Of the 357 eligible widowers, 11 had died prior to the first telephone interview, yielding a study population of 346 widowers. Of those, 296 (86%) were reachable and all of these (100%) were willing to participate in the telephone survey. Of them, 55% identified obstacles to participation in the questionnaire survey. Men under 60 years were less likely to identify obstacles. Years from loss (second through fourth years) were not associated with reporting obstacles to participation. The response rate in the epidemiological questionnaire survey following the telephone interview was 62% (216/346).

Of those who did identify obstacles 23%, did not did not identify any particular obstacle, but 33% stated that "they felt bad" or that it would be "a painful experience" or that they felt "uncomfortable" talking about their grief. About 18% stated their grief was "a private matter"; 6% stated that they did not want to be "stuck with their grief"; 9% said that it was "too late" to talk about their grief or that they "wanted to look towards their future". Additionally, 11% stated "other reasons", including responses like: "it's too early to talk about it", and "I have started another relationship - don't want complications."


The willingness to participate in the telephone interview was high and indicates a strong interest in the subject. Also, exposure to the study appeared to increase willingness to participate, since many men who initially could see obstacles to participation, actually participated in the epidemiological questionnaire survey. However, approximately one third of the men who initially identified obstacles to participation remained negative toward participation throughout the study period.