THE first large-scale study to examine the motivation of those who choose to go missing from home has been conducted by academics and police in Scotland.
Around 327,000 people are reported missing by their friends or family every year in the UK, with an estimated 39,000 annual cases north of the Border.
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The Geographies of Missing People project has researched the profiles of 45 people who have chosen to leave their normal lives behind, with the ultimate aim to improve their support by police and other agencies.
Researchers found most missing people tended to remain relatively local after they left home, with vanishers proving to be very resourceful while on the road in terms of shelter, rest, hide and travel.
Dr Hester Parr, from the University of Glasgow's School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, is the primary investigator on the project. She said: "Our research aims to identify not just why a person gets reported as missing, but to provide a deeper exploration of where they go, how they make decisions in relation to their geographies and the emotions they experience while they are away. People choose to go missing for a wide variety of reasons, but there are common threads. A history of traumatic experiences, feelings of being unable to cope, and feeling trapped or powerless to share their emotions were widely reported by those we spoke to.
"Once people chose to go missing, they very resourcefully used physical, natural and built environments to shelter, rest, hide and travel. Many people remained relatively local to where they disappeared from, suggesting they wanted to be missing but also knew where they were in relation to familiar places."
Dr Parr said while many people did not realise they had been reported missing, some of them realised someone may be trying to trace them. Some fear arrest and are often surprised to be treated with sympathy and understanding, Dr Parr added.
But she warned individuals were likely to go missing again if police were unsympathetic to them.
Dr Parr said: "Ultimately, what officers say to people once they're found, about being a missing person, matters hugely in helping people cope after the event. When police are unsympathetic, people can be left feeling confused and guilty, and perhaps are more likely to go missing again We hope the work we've done will be a valuable resource in police education and training in the future."
The project is a partnership between the universities of Glasgow and Dundee, the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, London Metropolitan Police and Police Scotland, supported with expert advice from the charity Missing People.
The report's recommendations for government, police, doctors and voluntary agencies include better sharing of information on those who have gone missing and for police to be aware of support for those who go home.