Rarely does a missing case regarding an adult involve criminality.
We are accustomed to assuming the worst when somebody goes missing— they got kidnapped, tortured or even worse, murdered. These concerns might be valid for children. However, when we throw in adults in the mix, there lingers an air of mystery, intrigue and unapologetic ignorance. The case of missing adults has more to do with their internal conflicts than crime.
According to a 2003 British study, two-thirds of missing adults consciously disappeared. Some disappear for a few days and return. To be more specific— 97% of all missing persons return within two weeks, according to an Australian research study. Once they return, there are no attempts to understand what would provoke them to take such a concerning step. Their behaviour is simply categorized as ‘attention-seeking’. The problem lies in two aspects: first, portraying attention negatively and secondly, the ignorance of the motive behind seeking attention. Attention, validation and a desire for care are necessary for a human being to function as a capable individual. Seeking attention is often inaccurately equated with desperation. Everybody requires attention to develop their self-image so this constant shaming does no good to anybody.
On to the second problematic aspect, the need for attention is only a peek into an individual’s mental processes. It is a superficial and direct product of deep-seated issues, conflicts and doubts in an individual’s mind. For example, one adult could expect validation from their parents regarding their career while another adult could expect it from their perverse boss. Labelling something based on the interpretation of only accessible information reduces an individual’s issues and hurts them even more. Some people disappear to return when there remains tangible proof that people around them care for them and want them beside them. Sometimes, adult missing cases are a simple test— one that a desensitized public does not pass.
Some disappear forever. One mid-life crisis and the looming possibility of losing a six-figure job could provoke a man to abandon his family and his children in the blink of an eye and adopt a new identity and imprint. It is a long life and carrying the baggage that comes with it gets tiring for some people. Disappearing offers a clean slate, even though police officials would apprise the family members of the missing individual’s suspected death. On the other hand, some adults disappear to escape their families or abuse within the family.
Whether the intention is to disappear for a short while or forever, one thing is clear— it is an attempt to gain control over their spiralling life. It is difficult for loved ones to understand this unsaid request, however. They resort to publicising their disappearance, cutting their time apart abruptly. The resources employed to find disappearing adults is inappropriate as well. There is not enough literature about the motivations behind an adult’s disappearance. But the fact that we are dealing with unstable emotional experiences rather than criminal escapades is very blatant. Therefore, relying on the local police entirely for a task like this hinders their mental space. The likelihood of something like this happening again increases. Let us look at disappearances of adults not as a criminal issue, but as one of public health. A shift in perspective will lead to a shift in methods of searching for missing adults. Not just that, but this would also ensure that the disappearance does not get swept under the metaphorical rug. A proper ‘prevention interview’ as suggested by a British charity, Missing People, must be conducted to ensure that they are safe and whether they require any further help. In addition to this, a proper discussion must be conducted about the cause for their disappearance, what they did when they were missing and what further help they need.