The pandemic is a blow to mental health – and that means more missing children | Francisco Garcia
While most return ‘safe and well’, cuts in services mean too many are at serious risk of disappearing again
The first few years of life weren’t easy for Leo*. His mother was severely dependent on drugs, as were other members of his family. There were periods of neglect, and he was taken into the care of his local authority while still a very young child. Now 16, Leo lives in semi-independent accommodation. But his difficulties haven’t evaporated. Often he has felt lonely and unwanted. On several recent occasions, Leo has been the subject of a missing persons report. When visited by caseworkers after returning, conversation has repeatedly turned to his mental health struggles. He just feels low most of the time.
Leo’s story is not unique, just as the UK’s missing persons crisis is nothing new: 170,000 people are reported missing every year, at a rate of one every 90 seconds. More than 70,000 are children and the majority, like Leo, boomerang in and out of sight repeatedly, perhaps living in care or unstable households. Though it’s rarely possible to pinpoint one single cause leading to a disappearance, poor mental health is very often a significant contributing factor. One in five children subject to a return interview with the charity Missing People has disclosed information about mental health issues.
Francisco Garcia is a London-based writer and journalist
*Names have been changed
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counsellor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org