We know that even when someone comes back from being missing, it can still be a really difficult time. Both you, and the person who has returned, will be experiencing a lot of strong feelings and emotions. It’s important to find a balance between everyone’s needs, and to create a supportive environment, so that everyone can process what has happened.
When your person comes home, you will likely have a lot of questions. You will want to know why they left, where they have been and what they were doing. You may feel angry that they left, or scared that they might leave again. You might not know how to talk about what happened, or they might be struggling with whatever issues caused them to leave in the first place.
Every missing episode is different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ guide on how to act when they return. However, below are some tips, and areas to think about, that could help in those first few days.
Remember that this is probably a difficult time for your missing person too. People often go missing because they are struggling with something in their life, and that might not have gone away just because they’re back. It is understandable if you feel angry, upset or scared, but try to remember that they may feel the same.
Give the person space when they first get back. Try to make them feel welcome, and make sure they have anything they need immediately, such as food, water, warmth and sleep. It might not be helpful to start asking lots of questions about what’s been happening straight away. Some people need time and space, and interrogating questions may feel overwhelming, even if they are coming from a supportive place.
However, we know some returned missing people felt like loved ones ignored the missing episode. This may have been because they just didn’t know how to talk about it. Once it feels right to, it’s good to gently explore whether your person is okay.
When the time feels right to talk, try to ask open-ended questions, and explore whether there is anything the person needs.
Ask questions such as “how are you?”, “is there anything you want to talk about?” or “is there anything I can do for you?”.
In some cases, they may prefer to speak to someone outside of the home, like a friend or professional. This can be hard for loved ones, when they feel left out of the conversation. But helping them to find the right person to talk to, is one of the most supportive things you can do.
Depending on what has been happening for your person there may be different support available.
If the person who has returned, is struggling with their mental health, encourage them to speak to a GP. If you are seriously concerned with their immediate mental wellbeing, use a local NHS urgent mental health helpline (available in England), or call 111 or 999 if it is an emergency.
There are a number of specialist services who can offer support or advice on particular issues, such as mental health, finance, addiction and relationships. Read a list of some services that could help, here.
If the person is a child, and you are worried that they have been harmed or might be being groomed or exploited, you should speak to their school, or to children’s social care in your area who will be able to refer you into specialist services.
Try to be led by the missing person on what they need going forward. It may take a little while to get back to any kind of ‘normal’, or they might need some changes in their life to make sure they’re okay. All of this being said, your feelings are all valid too. It is understandable to be angry, confused, hurt or to just not know what to do. Remember to look after yourself and to speak to friends or family members, or to support services like our helpline if you’re struggling when they come back.Talk to us