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Missing people chat service launched after demand rises during pandemic

·4-min read
(PA) (PA Archive)
(PA) (PA Archive)

A charity for missing people has launched an online chat service for vulnerable adults in response to rising demand and cases of increased severity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Phone calls to the national Missing People helpline have risen more than a third (39%) in a year, from just under 1,000 calls between 2019-2020 to 1,384 recorded over the gollowing year.

Overall, the number of adults helped by the charity has jumped 16% over the same period, from 2,373 to 2,747 adults.

An increasing number of these people were assessed as being at serious risk, it said – a trend which has continued throughout 2021.

You can share your pain with as little or as much anonymity as you feel you need. It’s less intrusive and yet still vitally in touch with another person whose sole purpose is to listen without judgment and support without fear of reprisal

Ju Blencowe

The charity, which reunites families in the UK, has launched the chat service after it noted a 13% rise in adults using its existing service intended for children and young people.

The new service is confidential, anonymous, non-judgmental and free.

Sophie Lapham, director of services at Missing People, said: “Over the past year or so, in particular, we have been speaking to people who have felt ‘like they just want to disappear’ or ‘feel trapped’ and ‘need to get away’.

“They say they ‘don’t want to be here anymore’ and feel like their families and friends ‘would be better off without them’. These are their words.”

She added: “More people prefer the speed and anonymity of instant chat, particularly young adults.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people in crisis to get the help they need.”

The charity said people go missing or think about disappearing for multiple reasons, but poor mental health is a common factor in most scenarios.

Problems with work, money, debt or relationship breakdowns can also be key factors.

Ju Blencowe, who went missing in 2017 during a mental health crisis following the death of her mother, said the new service could “build a bridge to others who feel like I once did”.

She said: “You can share your pain with as little or as much anonymity as you feel you need.

“It’s less intrusive and yet still vitally in touch with another person whose sole purpose is to listen without judgment and support without fear of reprisal.”

Increasingly police are asking the charity to text a missing person through its Suicide Risk Text Safe, and broader Text Safe services.

This involves the charity texting a missing person with its contact details and details of the Samaritans.

It has seen a rise of 72% per quarter on average in demand for its Suicide Risk Text Safe service – sending 545 texts per quarter since April 2021, up from 316 texts per quarter in 2020/21.

The number of text safe requests has risen 20% on average per quarter – from 3,539 per quarter in 2020/21 up to 4,231 per quarter so far since April.

The charity said some of the rise could be down to more police forces starting to use the service, but it believes a genuine increase in need is also driving the trend.

Neil Goulden, from the Trustee Gamesys Foundation, which is funding the new chat service, said: “Missing People today launch their powerful new online chat service for adults who are missing or thinking of going missing.

“The Gamesys Foundation are proud and delighted to support Missing People and fund this service, especially around the areas of mental health which is commonly experienced by missing people.”

For help, advice or support, or to pass on information about a missing person, you can call or text Missing People, confidentially, on 116 000, email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk or visit www.missingpeople.org.uk/get-help to access Online Chat.

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