“Excuse me, I wonder if you could help? Our friend is missing”

Missing episodes do not just affect family members. Friends, neighbours, co-workers and even distant acquaintances can also be affected by someone going missing.

We offer support to all who know someone who has gone missing, and who might be struggling with their absence.

Sophie*, a friend of a missing person who has not been seen in 2 months, shares her lived experience of being swept into the world of missing.

“Excuse me, I wonder if you could help? Our friend is missing”

Excuse me, I wonder if you could help? Our friend is missing”. I must have spoken that phrase hundreds of times in the past 10 weeks as, together with my friends, neighbours and strangers, we’ve walked the streets around our home city; distributing leaflets, knocking on doors and trying to raise awareness.

In the first few days we were manic, eager and desperate; trying to make everybody stop and listen to us.  As time has moved on, we’ve become more structured and reserved but also more determined and, perhaps, braver as we try to find answers to the questions which are still spiralling around our heads.

It’s been overwhelming and exhausting; I think I’ve been through every possible emotion.  I’ve felt bewildered, upset, scared, angry and frustrated.   Thankfully, our group of friends has been able to support each other.  We’ve been able to say how we feel, share our thoughts and fears and keep an eye on one another.  That has been crucial as there have been times when I’ve felt really low or really frustrated.  Being able to speak to somebody who’s feeling just the same has helped.

The physical impact on me has been a surprise.  I’ve struggled to sleep since my friend disappeared, something that I’ve never had a problem with before.  I did have a few bad nightmares which were upsetting. Many of my friends have experienced that too.   I’m now waking up every few hours and I know it’s because my brain is so busy, I’m struggling to switch off. I’m making an effort to stop looking at my phone at night, to avoid the computer and television and try to relax by reading before going to bed.  I was also given some lavender oil by a friend who’s experienced a family member going missing and that really helped.  People have been so kind.

What I wished I’d known before was how overwhelming it can be when somebody goes missing.  The hardest thing has been not knowing what’s happened and not knowing what to feel or how to deal with it.   Everybody seems to have an opinion and want to share them with us.  Most people mean well but it can be too much to cope with.  I’ve found it useful to remind them that it’s a person they’re talking about.  Using phrases such as “thank you but that’s my friend so please can you not speculate?” have helped.  I’ve also been honest and said “I can’t deal with this now; I’m finding it too upsetting” or saying “Can we talk about something else please?”.

Social media has been both really useful and really tough to deal with.  It’s helped us to spread the word and reach hundreds of thousands of people but there have been times when it’s also been frustrating and upsetting.  If people don’t know the person who’s missing, they can be insensitive and hurtful.  Some people appear to enjoy being part of something which they feel is exciting, they don’t seem to be able to separate fact from fiction.  A few people who don’t know our friend have started social media groups where people can talk about the disappearance. We scan these but I don’t look very often and I don’t have alerts for them on my phone. It’s too exhausting.

“Excuse me, I wonder if you could help?  Our friend is missing” . As the weeks have passed we’re still walking the streets and raising awareness but we’re also asking for help for ourselves.  Speaking to the team at Missing People, to counsellors, to the police, to GPs have helped us. Everybody has had a different experience but we’ve all found talking has been really helpful.  We’ve also been keeping a close eye on each other, picking up when one of us is having a tough time.

I am realistic and know that it’s incredibly unlikely that I will see my friend again.  If that were to happen, I would just say “Hi”, that would probably be enough. And “it’s OK” because whatever has happened, it will be OK.  I don’t need to know why or how or when.

The hardest thing about having a friend who is missing is that we are really, really missing them.

*name changed to protect individuals’ privacy.

How To Get Support

Missing People’s free and confidential Helpline is open 9am-11pm 7 days per week for anyone who is missing, thinking of leaving, or who has a missing loved one. Call or text 116 000 or email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk.

Our online chat also runs from 2.30 – 9.30om 7 days per week. It is confidential and anonymous. Visit www.missingpeople.org.uk/chat.