Missing persons and suicide

Learn about assessing the risk of missing persons and suicide, the link between mental illness and suicide and triggers that can be watched for.

Some people who go missing do so with the intention of taking their own lives. Often there is a clear indication that the person intends to take their own life.  For example, they may have left a suicide note, closed bank account/s or, prepared a recent Will.

In some cases it may be difficult to determine whether the missing person has decided to take their own life or has simply gone off to 'think things through' or be alone for a while.

Assessing risk of suicide

To assess if a missing person may be at risk of suicide, a number of interrelated factors need to be considered:

  • if someone has never been reported missing previously, but has attempted suicide before, they have a higher risk
  • someone who has recently talked in depth about taking their own life has a higher risk
  • if their disappearance coincides with any significant dates in their life, risk of suicide is higher
  • people with strong religious beliefs are generally less likely to take their own lives

As well as the points mentioned above, some subtle pre-suicidal behaviours may be displayed. The missing person may have:

  • been significantly more affectionate before their disappearance
  • uncharacteristically left their wedding ring on a bedside table or another obvious place before their disappearance – this is more common with men, particularly elderly men
  • set their personal affairs in order before their disappearance
  • left their wallet, purse, mobile phone or other necessary everyday items behind

Mental illness and suicide

A large number of people reported as missing to police suffer from depression. Although there is a strong association between suicide and mental illness, particularly depression, this does not mean that everyone with a mental illness will try to take their own life.

Two strong indicators that a depressed person may be at risk of suicide are:

  • a suicide note has been written indicating an intention to take their own life
  • the person has talked about taking their own life

However, even if one or both of these indicators are present you should not automatically conclude that the person will try to take their own life. There is usually something in their background which is either the cause of depression or the 'trigger' which has pushed them towards ending their own life.

A trigger can be:

  • relationship problems
  • financial problems
  • sexual problems
  • employment problems
  • education problems
  • medical problems
  • mental health problems
  • addiction problems
  • bereavement
  • school bullying
  • cyber bullying

People experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings are able to work through them and stay safe when seeking professional help and support. People with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions often make a full recovery and go on to lead full, productive and happy lives.

It is important to remember that there is hope for change but that change often happens slowly. Taking steps to getting the support one needs can lead to recovery.