Study probes effects of missing persons to help those left behind

Study probes effects of missing persons to help those left behind

Researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW) are seeking participants to help them explore the emotional processes people go through when a loved one goes missing.

Around 35,000 people reported missing in Australia each year and although most are located within a few days, the number of people who remain missing long-term (longer than six months) is increasing.

PhD student Cecilia Hammell, from UOW’s School of Psychology, said the research aims to explore the emotional processes people go through, taking into consideration the circumstances surrounding the disappearance.

“For every person that goes missing, it is estimated that at least 12 others are affected, and the impact on the psychological wellbeing of those left behind can be profound,” Ms Hammell said.

“The experience of not knowing whether to grieve the loss or wait for the person’s return has been likened to experiencing an unresolved death.”

Researchers are hoping to gain a better understanding of peoples’ ability to tolerate uncertainty and the coping strategies used to manage the emotions they are experiencing.

“The psychological processes people go through and the ways in which people navigate their emotions during this kind of loss are what we’re trying to find out,” Ms Hammell said.

“This kind of information is vital for gaining insight into how the best possible support might be provided for those left behind.”

Researchers are inviting people aged 18 years or over who have a missing loved one, and who are willing to share their experience, to complete an online survey. 

Participation is entirely voluntary and those choosing to be part of the study can withdraw at any time. All details about participants and their missing loved one will be anonymous and confidential.

Access the survey here.