Missing people in the UK
Did you know that in the UK, somebody is reported missing every 90 seconds? When you lose track of somebody, it can be incredibly distressing, especially if there don’t seem to be any leads or any logical explanation as to why that person would have left their home or friends or family. The truth is that there are multiple reasons why people go missing, and there are many more missing people out there than we might assume. While many people are tracked and traced within a few hours, there are some that are never found.
Many of us have never been in a situation where somebody we know seems to have vanished, but you only have to watch the news or read the papers to know that people do go missing. With the number of cases of missing people on the rise, it’s crucial to look at the reasons why people disappear and to consider if there is anything more than can be done to prevent this from happening and to ensure that more people are found safe and sound if they do leave home.
Missing people in the UK: the latest statistics
The National Crime Agency published new statistics in spring 2018. The latest figures suggest that:
- Someone in the UK is reported missing every 90 seconds
- A total of 180,000 people are reported missing every single year
- 340,000 incidents of missing persons are reported every year
- 79% of people return or are found safe within 24 hours
The NCA figures show that there are thousands of cases of missing persons reported every year in the UK. With one report every 90 seconds, this represents a major problem, which requires urgent attention. Now, 180,000 people are reported missing over the course of a 12-month period, and some 340,000 incidents are reported every year.
Who is most likely to go missing?
The majority of missing persons cases involve children. Statistics show that 1 in 200 children goes missing, in comparison to 1 in 500 adults. Men are more likely to be reported missing than women. There is a chance that numbers could be significantly higher, as many cases of missing children are not reported to the police, and therefore not recorded by the National Crime Agency. This is often the case when children go missing for a short period of time. Research suggests that vulnerable children and adults are more likely to go missing.
What are the reasons for people going missing?
Statistics suggest that there are varying levels of intention and desire when it comes to missing person reports. Often, particularly with children, there’s a temporary urge to escape or run off, rather than a compulsion to disappear for a prolonged period of time. In some cases, however, there is a clear intention, and figures suggest that many people who do go missing suffer from health issues, most notably mental health disorders.
Mental health disorders
National Crime Agency Statistics suggest that up to 80 percent of adults who are reported missing have psychological disorders, which are either undiagnosed or diagnosed. Interviews conducted with adults who have gone missing show that many suffer from depression and some have attempted suicide or self-harm. Mental health problems are also an issue for children. More than 10 percent of children who go missing have mental health issues. This proportion is expected to rise in the UK in coming years, as reports reveal an increase in the number of children and teenagers affected by psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Breakups and relationship difficulties
Missing People estimates that around a third of adults who are reported missing have experienced problems in their relationship. This may relate to a breakup, domestic violence or abuse or ongoing arguments or disagreements.
Dementia is a progressive condition, which affects cognitive ability and memory and increases the risk of confusion. Research suggests that around 40 percent of adults diagnosed with dementia will go missing at some point in their lives. Often, this is unintentional. Approximately 10 percent of cases of missing adults in the UK involve a person who suffers from dementia. Sometimes, when you come across a person who has dementia, they’ve taken the wrong path or left home with a desire to go somewhere to visit friends or family or go back to a place that holds some degree of significance or importance to them. Dementia makes it very difficult to retain memories and to navigate to different places, and this often results in people ending up in a different place to the desired location.
Government statistics show that more than 4,750 people slept on the streets in England in 2017. This figure represents an increase of 15% from 2016 and a seventh consecutive annual rise. Homeless people can be difficult to track and trace because they have no fixed address and many don’t have a job or an established circle of friends or family members. Some may feel that nobody would notice if they disappeared, and they may not even consider themselves missing people. Being homeless is likely to impact both physical and mental health, and charities like Centrepoint and Crisis are worried that it will become increasingly difficult for those sleeping rough to find a way off the streets. People who don’t have a home may go missing for a number of reasons, including mental health issues, or they may take the decision to move to another city or town in a bid to try and make a fresh start or find opportunities.
Missing children and young people
The charity Missing People suggests that there is a range of reasons why children and young people go missing. Although many cases may not be intentional, there is evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of children and teenagers intend to disappear.
Mental health is an increasingly integral factor, with more than 1 in 10 cases of missing children linked to psychological disorders. More than half of children reported missing have also experienced abuse or neglect at home, and up to 70 percent have experienced sexual exploitation. Studies also suggest that those living in care are more likely to go missing than those who live with family members. The Children’s Society suggests that arguments, a breakdown in relationships with carers and a lack of control and fixed boundaries and rules can contribute to an elevated risk of children in care going missing. In Greater Manchester alone, more than 5,000 children and young people go missing every year, and it is estimated that children in care are three times more likely to go missing.
What are the risks associated with going missing?
When somebody goes missing, there are both immediate and long-term risks to consider. There are many different scenarios that can evolve and develop from a person going missing, and the risks may vary according to the individual. A child that has disappeared without trace may face different risks to an elderly person who has dementia who has gone missing from a care home, for example. Whatever the situation, the priority is always to ensure that the individual is found safe as quickly as possible. Examples of risks that a missing person may face include:
- Physical health issues associated with a lack of food and water, exhaustion and exposure to potentially hazardous or unhealthy environments
- Lack of access to warm clothing and shelter
- No income or means of accessing funds
- Crime and abuse
- Disorientation and confusion
- Increased vulnerability associated with being alone
- Loneliness and despair
In the long term, missing people may also be more prone to homelessness, a lack of education and employment, which leads to limited opportunities, mental and physical health disorders, drug or alcohol dependence and an increased likelihood to engage in criminal activities.
What can I do if somebody I know is missing?
Some cases of missing people become an instant emergency, while in other cases, it can take hours, even days to notice that somebody has gone missing. If a child disappears from a park or a patient goes missing from a hospital or a nursing home, for example, alarm bells will be raised straight away. In contrast, if you haven’t heard from a friend for a few days, but you only speak to them a couple of times a week, you might not think it’s strange that you haven’t heard from them until you try and get in touch a few days later and you continue to call without a response. Often, intuition plays an important role. Sometimes, there’s a logical reason for a person being late or not showing up to an event or coming home at the same time as normal. Perhaps they’ve dropped their phone, or they’re stuck in miles of traffic jams. Sometimes, even if it seems irrational, you have a feeling that something isn’t right. If you suspect that somebody is missing, it’s best to raise the alarm, especially in high-risk situations. If you have a loved one with a history of mental health problems, for example, or a neighbour with dementia, the sooner you report the issue, the better.
If you’re worried about somebody, it’s a good idea to visit their home or workplace and make some calls and check-in with their friends and relatives to make sure that they’re not with them. If you’ve already done this, and you can’t track the person down via their phone or social media, for example, the police will be your first port of call.
When you report a missing person to the police, an officer will ask you some questions about the person in question to try and build a picture of who has gone missing and try and identify the most likely places they will be. They will ask you to provide a description or to share photos and pictures and they will also ask questions about that person’s mental state and their physical wellbeing to determine whether they are at risk. If a vulnerable person has gone missing, investigations and searches will be launched immediately. The police may also take details about social media accounts, email addresses and phone numbers from you, and they will also try and get an idea of who has seen that person and where they were when they were last seen. It’s also useful to think about people they may get in contact with and places they may go to. The more information you can provide, the better.
In addition to contacting the police, it is possible to pursue other avenues, such as putting up posters and running a campaign on social media. You can also contact findukpeople.com, which offers a range of services that are designed to track and trace people who have gone missing. Using techniques like phone tracing, findukpeople is able to locate missing people quickly.
Coping when a loved one goes missing
Thousands of people go missing every year in the UK. When you see stories in the paper or hear headlines on the news, you probably never expect to be in the same situation as the parents making a plea on the local bulletin or the friends desperately looking for a buddy who hasn’t turned up to school. The truth is that any of us could find ourselves in this situation. Perhaps the hardest thing about a loved one going missing is the uncertainty. You have no idea where they are, what has happened to them, or when they may come home, and for many people who have experience of being without a child, a sibling or a friend for a long period of time, it’s difficult to regain any sense of normality when you’re in a state of limbo and your emotions are heightened.
If somebody you know has gone missing, try not to panic, and contact the police as soon as possible. Think carefully about where they could have gone and who they may have contacted or seen since you last saw or spoke to them. Get in touch with friends and relatives, and spread the word online. If it’s been a long time, and you’ve had no news, don’t be afraid to seek help. It’s incredibly difficult and draining to deal with life when somebody who is special to you isn’t there, and there are people who can help, such as charities like Missing People. Although you may feel that you have to put all your effort into searching and staying positive, it’s crucial to look after yourself too.
Every year in the UK, around 180,000 people go missing. If you’re searching for a missing person, contact our expert missing person team to see how we can help.