Mobilities of mental health crisis: the geographies of missing people

By Hester Parr

The ESRC-funded Geographies of Missing People project (2011-2014) is led by myself, and has been carried out with co-investigators Professor Nick Fyfe (SIPR, University of Dundee) and Dr Penny Woolnough (Senior Research Officer for Police Scotland). A dedicated researcher, Olivia Stevenson, was appointed for the duration of the project, and has been based in Glasgow. This project has recruited 45 returned missing people via police database in order to hear the voices of these individuals, and create a unique window on their missing journeys and on the detail of where, how and why that went missing. Many of the people who have gone missing have reported mental health problems, and our sample is in line with the 80% of cases that are estimated nationally. In this project we are particularly interested in the absence of missing people as an embodied performance, responsive and resistant to particular kinds of urban governance, notably policing (Cloke, et al, 2008; Parr and Fyfe, 2012). Cartographies and performances of lived absence are understood in this project from the ‘inside’, and we access something of ‘what it feels like’ to be a missing person as well as showing how ‘missingness’ is articulated in and through personal urban geographies via testimonies.

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The Geographies of Missing People project used verbatim interview transcripts to ‘story’ missing people’s narratives, an approach maximising public exposure to the research and making it easier for user groups to access the key messages that missing people convey about their difficult and complex movements. Understanding more about where and how people reported as missing ‘go absent’ helps to elaborate thinking on paradoxical spatialities, critically documenting previously undocumented mobilities, despite the surprising fact that there are 350,000 annual reports of missing incidents recorded by the police in the UK (SOCA, 2013). This project has also drawn on the emotional narratives of families of missing people and police officers who track them (see all resources and current publications at www.geographiesofmissingpeople.org.uk). This project tells us that attention to post asylum geographies can include looking at crisis-led mobilities for people with mental health problems.

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