The thought of a family member, a friend or someone else you care about going missing can be terrifying. You don’t know where they are, if they’re hurt or if they need help. When this person lives with a mental health condition, the situation may be even more serious. Taking action quickly can make a difference.
Contact the Police Immediately
Provide the police where your loved one is missing with all the information you can. If the person remains missing more than three days, ask the police to place them on the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) list as an “endangered adult.” This computer network provides information nationwide. If you make it clear to police that it is a mental health issue, they may be able to reduce the number of days. The network will give you a police number to use when searching for your loved one. Make sure to keep a record of the report with the cause number so you can follow up.
When a missing person with mental illness over age 21 is located, the police and other agencies cannot be asked to hold a person against their will if he or she has not committed a crime and are not a danger to themselves or others. No one has the authority to force the person to seek aid or medical care against their will unless there is a medical guardianship or court order stating what action to take. However, you still may want to ask the police to let you know if they locate your loved one, even if they refuse to contact you.
Reach Out to the Missing Person’s Friends and Acquaintances
Call other people who are close to your loved one and ask when they last saw him or her. Reach out to anyone who had regular or recent contact with the missing person, such as case managers, coworkers, doctors and neighbors.
Register Them with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)
Go to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and upload information about your loved one. This powerful resource will help you, law enforcement, medical examiners and other members of the justice community enter data about the person who is missing. You should include details such as physical characteristics and where they were last seen.
Check Nearby Hospitals, Churches, Homeless Shelters and Libraries
Keep in mind that some of these places may have confidentiality restrictions and be unable to confirm if your loved one is there.
Post a One-page Flyer
Create a missing person poster using samples available on the Internet. Save the poster as a pdf which can be used online or for printing. Your poster should include:
- Two recent photos
- Hometown, plus state
- Height, weight, age
- Vehicle license plate number and photo of car
- Place last seen at
- Phone number of police station or investigator
Check Out Social Media or Create a Website
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other accounts of your loved one may provide clues that can point you to where your loved one is. Look at their friend’s social media accounts as well. Create a Facebook page or website for the person missing.
- For a website, use a heading like “Find John Doe” or “Missing Jane Smith.” This will help bring up your page on a Google search. Names like “PleaseHelpFindJane” or “MissingMySonJohn” will also get the message across, but may not be included in as many search results.
- Post a recent picture and specific information about your loved one including clothing last seen wearing, physical description, age and information about glasses, tattoos etc. Where they were last seen and where they like to hang out.
- Upload your missing person poster as a PDF so it can easily be shared and printed out.
- Disclosing that your loved one has a mental health condition should be considered carefully. You may simply want to say that he or she is vulnerable and under the care of a doctor makes sense.
- Add a story about your loved one and additional pictures that are compelling and easy for others to relate to.
- Upload a video to YouTube or Facebook of yourself and make a video appeal.
- Ask for people to contact the police department handling the investigation.
Contact Your NAMI Affiliate or State Organization
Your NAMI Affiliate may know about local resources and places to look for your loved. They may also be able to help put up your flyers and search.
Alert the Local Media
Getting the local media to make a public announcement may allow for the missing person to see the notice and decide to return home. This publicity can also lead police and others to devote more resources to solving the case. Keep in mind though that the media is not guaranteed and not likely to cover your story.
What Should I do if My Child is Missing or has Run Away?
You should immediately call your local police. Provide them with a detailed physical description including what clothing he or she was wearing and where and when he was last seen. Federal law prohibits police from imposing a waiting period before accepting a missing child.
Within two hours of receiving a missing child report, police must add the information to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Missing Person File.
Federal and state governments, law enforcement and organizations provide special resources and services to help search for missing children or teens.
If your child is between the ages of 18 and 20, and legally considered an adult, and has a mental health condition, police are required by Suzanne’s Law (a provision in the PROTECT Act of 2003) to extend the same level of effort and resources as they would for a child under the age of 18.
You should then call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (CMEC), 1-800-843-5678. CMEC will provide technical and case management assistance to help ensure all available search and recover methods are used.
All of the tips and suggestions provided for locating a missing person can apply to a person of any age so we recommend using those strategies as well.
Resources for Finding Missing Children
Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Faces of the Lost
National Runaway Safeline