Defining who is a missing adult

As surprising as it may sound, there is no single definition of a “missing adult” that is accepted by police and other agencies working to locate missing persons in Canada.

The Canadian Centre for Information on Missing Adults (CCIMA) defines a missing adult as a person, who is 18 years of age or older at the time of the disappearance, whose whereabouts is unknown, and there is concern for the person’s safety or well-being.

For police, an important element to include in the definition is that the person must be reported missing to police.  Until police are told about a person’s disappearance, they cannot help to locate the missing person.

Missing adults in Canada

Each year, police record over 100,000 missing persons in Canada.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, missing persons are located within a very short period of time – usually within days of the disappearance.  Sometimes the missing person is located by police, but often the person returns home on her/his own.

Reasons for going missing

Reasons why adults go missing are as varied as the individuals themselves.  In some cases, several factors may contribute to a person’s disappearance.

There are a number of classifications used in describing the missing adult population.  The classification below presents some of the major categories of missing adults.

Deliberate Disappearances:  This includes adults who may be experiencing difficulties with significant people in their lives, financial issues, family break-down or other problems that may be overwhelming.  The decision to disappear is a way to escape the situation.

This also includes adults who decide to simply leave family and friends behind to start a new life elsewhere.

Suicide:  Some adults disappear with the intention of committing suicide.

Adventure or Accident Victims:  These adults include those who disappear while engaging in activities such as boating, adventure hiking, diving or other activities and experience a catastrophic event.

Drifters:  Drifters are those who lead a more transient lifestyle.  Over time, contact with family and friends is lost.

Unintentional Disappearances:  This includes people such as those with dementia (e.g. Alzheimer’s Disease) who become lost or wander away from home.  It can also include those who find themselves lost (e.g. while travelling, in a new city, etc.), overdue in terms of their expected arrival or misunderstanding/miscommunication of a meeting point.

Mental Health Issues:  Some disappearances are due to undiagnosed or untreated mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia.  Addictions may be a factor as well.

Unknown Circumstances:  In some cases there is no clear reason that explains why the adult went missing.  The explanation comes only after the person is located.

Foul Play/Suspicious Circumstances:  These are disappearances that are the result of kidnapping, homicide, domestic violence, human trafficking or other criminal events.  It is important to note that only a small portion of missing person cases are due to foul play.

Regardless of the reason for the disappearance, the trauma experienced by family and friends can be tremendous.

This document has been developed by the CCIMA for general information purposes (12/2012).