Psychiatrist offers mental health tips for parents of missing children

Dr. Croft says it is important to get connected to resources like organizations that could help during investigations

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas – With more children reported missing around the holidays, a local psychiatrist is offering tips on maintaining mental health for parents of missing children.

“It is a fear that I can only imagine -- what it must be like to have your loved one, especially a child, missing and not know where they are and what is happening to them and what might happen to them,” said Dr. Harry Croft.

Croft said it is crucial for parents waiting out the investigation into the disappearance of their children to share their feelings.

“Whether it is with family, friends, church or even finding an organization that deals with lost children,” he said. “That can help you out in terms of having someone to listen to you. When we keep those feelings inside, they get more magnified and fearful, and we get more frightened, afraid and depressed.”

Croft said it is also essential to take care of yourself.

“What most (parents) will tend to do is withdraw,” Croft said. “They don’t eat right. They don’t sleep right. They stop doing things in life that they are used to doing, like exercising or watching TV. Instead, they are sitting in fear all of the time. There is also a tendency to numb the pain, whether through drinking or taking drugs when that will only make things worse.”

If a parent goes through this devastating process, Croft said it is important for family and friends to become a strong support system.

“The reality of what is important in a situation like this is that it is not what people say, but it is the fact that they are there to listen,” Croft said. “A lot of people may feel like they don’t know what to say or what to do to make them feel better. Just you being there will make someone feel better.”

“Saying, ‘It is going to be fine,’ doesn’t always help, and it may not be true,” he continued. “Listen and just try to understand what the person is going through and be there for them so they know they could count on you when they call or need something.”

Croft said it is also important to note that parents can never be prepared for a tragic ending.

“It doesn’t matter how long the middle part takes. It might take hours, or days, or weeks, or months, or even years. It would seem like when the final outcome is tragic, you would have had all this time to prepare, but that is not the case,” he said. “It is like when you know someone who is terminally ill, and you know they will pass on eventually. Whenever it happens, it could be just as potent. Time alone doesn’t make it easier if the outcome is tragic.”

Croft said finding a support group where others have been through a situation like this would be very helpful.

Croft also stated there are long-term impacts on parents’ mental health even if the outcome is not tragic.

“If the outcome is good, oftentimes, most of the time, counseling and therapy could be really helpful,” he said. “It may not happen immediately, but down the road, other feelings may come forward that are difficult to deal with. At the beginning, you think, ‘I am happy they are unharmed and fine.’ But then I may find myself being very angry when I think about my child or loved one disappearing in the first place.”

Croft said post-traumatic stress disorder might become an obstacle to overcome.

“People may become very wary and suspicious of things going on around them following the return of their loved one,” he said. “The best way to manage that is to seek counseling.”

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said if your child is missing, it is crucial to call law enforcement first and remain in communication.

“There is a myth out there that says we have to wait 24 hours before we can report them missing,” Salazar said. “That is not true. People can be missing at any age. It is not, ‘Oh, he is an adult and can go and come as they please.’ No. Also, we have a disturbing trend where people create flyers with their personal contact information on them, and scammers are trying to capitalize on their grief.”

Salazar said, “Always put the contact information of a law agency’s non-emergency number or 911. The last thing we want is a distraught mother or father getting that call at 2 in the morning, saying we have your loved one, and then being scammed out of money and being possibly put at risk.”

Most importantly, he said never to give up.

“Keep fighting for your child,” Salazar said. “It is what we do as parents. If that means calling the law enforcement agencies every day, being a thorn in their side, then that is good because that is what you should be doing.”

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About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.