Hundreds at risk of going missing this Christmas, warns charity


A missing persons charity is warning that hundreds of people are at risk over Christmas after calls to its helpline rose by two thirds during the coronavirus outbreak.

The societal and financial impacts of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions have sparked a rise in the number of people thinking about disappearing, Missing People said.

Calls to its helpline have risen 68%, from an average of 284 calls per quarter in 2018-19 and 2019-20 to 477 on average for the first two quarters of 2020-21.

And the number of vulnerable adults helped by the charity has risen more than a third since March, with 817 adults helped on average during the first two quarters of 2020-21.

This is up from 583 adults on average per quarter over 2018-19 and 2019-20, with part of the rise also likely due to better data recording.

The charity is urging families forced to separate over the festive period to check up on loved ones remotely after “worrying signs” that people are at greater risk.

Missing People said some people will “necessarily be excluded” from Christmas celebrations this year, due to Government advice that bubbles should be limited to three households.

Chief executive Jo Youle said: “Christmas is always a challenging time of year, and especially so in 2020 when many of us have spent the year apart from loved ones and are continuing to do so.

“Mental health and money problems are a key driver for people to go missing. This year the financial and societal impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to lead to a significant increase in the numbers of people going missing, and feeling suicidal, perhaps at a scale not seen before.

“This is likely to be most acutely felt in disadvantaged communities and those who are already socially excluded.”

A survey for the charity found that two thirds of vulnerable people reported that lockdown measures had worsened their mental health, while half said it had become harder to access support services.

Research from the University of Liverpool found that fewer adults went missing during the first lockdown, compared to the previous year, but those who did were more vulnerable and at higher risk of harming themselves or others.

Men aged 22-39 are the adult group most likely to go missing.

Black and minority ethnic groups – especially black men – represent a disproportionately large percentage of people reported missing and are among the groups most affected by Covid-19.

People who go missing are at risk of homelessness and harm, and existing mental health problems are likely to worsen the longer they are away.

Missing People has produced a free guide on how families can look after each others’ mental health.

The charity is being supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery and the Royal Mail Group.

Long-term partnership manager at People’s Postcode Lottery, Hazel Johnstone, said: “We are delighted that support from our players is continuing to positively impact the work of Missing People at this vital time, and to highlight the stigma that can exist about why people go missing.”

Lily Heinemann at the Royal Mail Group said: “We have worked with Missing People since 2014, sending out high-risk missing person alerts to our postmen and postwomen across the UK.

“We hope that our additional support this Christmas will enable the charity to help even more missing people and their loved ones, during a particularly difficult time.”