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Former runaway teen from Herne Bay says she was “addicted” to disappearing

A former runaway teen who was “addicted” to leaving home is now using her experience to help other youngsters who are struggling.

Jade Knight, who has been declared missing more than 50 times, says she enjoyed the adrenaline rush it gave her but is now tackling her issues in a positive way.

Jade has been missing more than 50 times
Jade has been missing more than 50 times

She says a recent surge in young people going missing is worrying and is now sharing her story in the hope of raising awareness of the dangers of disappearing.

The 21-year-old, from Beltinge, Herne Bay, says she first left home because of struggles with her physical and mental health.

As a teenager, she was entering beauty pageants and photos show her smiling and looking as though all was rosy. But inside, she was struggling.

Jade said: “I live with quite serious medical conditions and I've been like that since I was eight, so a long time.

“When I got to 15, I was like, ‘I can't do this anymore - I can't keep coming out of hospital, I don't want to have my medication anymore, I can't live with this’.”

The Canterbury Christ Church student suffers from type 1 diabetes and had undiagnosed Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

She says medical professionals would tell her symptoms for the condition were all in her head, and the pressures of her parents trying to help when they couldn’t also led to a breakdown of their relationship.

Jade’s health conditions led her to running away
Jade’s health conditions led her to running away

She said: “I started not looking after myself properly and when I wasn't well, I was a horrible person - I was grumpy and shouting

“I was just angry at the world and I thought why am I going through all this health stuff, and also, why am I not getting support from mental health teams?”

Jade’s response to being overwhelmed with what was going on in her life was to run away.

“I couldn’t be trusted, I wasn’t really allowed to leave the house.

“As soon as I left for more than five minutes, my mum automatically had to call the police because it was in my social services care plan.

“My mum couldn't even trust me to go to the shop that's two minutes down the road.”

It was a coping mechanism that was addictive, she says.

“Instead of maybe sitting and calming down, my first instinct was to disappear – it was like an adrenaline rush.

Jade is also a pageant princess
Jade is also a pageant princess

“I went from being in hospital hooked up to machines to suddenly being in a field, not knowing where I was and I could do whatever I wanted.

“That was what was in my head – if I walk out that door and disappear then I've not got to go to the hospital, I'm not a patient, I've not got these illnesses, I'm just me.”

Until September 2020, Jade went missing more than 50 times in just Kent alone.

Some of these instances would only be for an hour until she was caught.

She said: “I used to try and get out of my own area because they would know where to look for me.

“At 15 you just think you're invincible – I never expected anything to happen to me when I was missing, and down the line stuff did.”

At times when she ran away in winter, it would be pitch black, cold and late.

Some moments of being missing were scary says Jade (Bojan Pavlukovic/iStock)
Some moments of being missing were scary says Jade (Bojan Pavlukovic/iStock)

She said: “I would think ‘anything could happen to me right now and no one would know anything about it because nobody knows where I am’ and that's the scary part about it.”

Jade’s addiction to leaving home suddenly stopped once she turned 18.

At this age, there is not necessarily a police obligation to find the individual unless there is a concern for their safety or wellbeing.

She said: “I just woke up one day and was like, ‘right, enough is enough, I'm not doing it anymore’ and I've never gone again.

“As an adult I still feel like ‘why me?’ with my medical conditions. I don't feel any different about that but it's just a different way of looking at it.

“I live by the quote that it's not about what's happened to you but you can choose how you react to it.”

Since then, Jade has rebuilt her relationship with her family and siblings.

Jade uses running as an outlet now
Jade uses running as an outlet now

She also runs competitively, using it as an alternative outlet to relieve pressure rather than leaving home. She has run marathons to raise money for the charity Missing People.

She is currently studying policing and sport and hopes of becoming an officer, and helping others who were once in her position.

Jade said: “I built relationships back up with my friends that I damaged, I've got a partner, I've got a car. I don't know, I just got my whole life back.

“I think I'm pretty lucky in the sense that not everyone gets out.

“Some end up dead or in psychiatric units where they won't leave for years, sometimes it follows people around forever and they never get over it.”

In 2022, Jade was the face of Missing People’s Home for Christmas campaign.

Her journey was also featured in the Channel 5 documentary Vanished: The Hunt for Britain’s Missing People, released earlier this year.

She now works with charities to help other missing people.
She now works with charities to help other missing people.

She said: “I look at my story and I'm so ashamed of it, I would never talk about it.”

But now, Jade works as a mentor and contacts young troubled people who have shared her experiences.

She said: “Sometimes police officers, support workers and social workers don't understand what it's like to go missing.”

In sharing her story with teenagers, she says there is an almost automatic trust.

Jade said: “If I can make any difference to anyone, even if it is one person then it's all worth it.

“It used to be rare for someone to go missing but now it's just becoming so common and people don't understand the risks.”

In the UK, someone is reported missing every 90 seconds according to the charity Missing People.

Jade is now a mentor for missing people charities and raises money for them through her running
Jade is now a mentor for missing people charities and raises money for them through her running

Kent recently has also seen a rise in numbers but Jade says there are many cases which are not posted on social media by the police.

“They only put category A ones up, the rest are not getting on the news, on Facebook, nothing - it's only the highest risk that will get that.”

According to Missing People, some of the most common reasons for children to go missing are problems at home, sexual exploitation, trafficking and mental health.

Jade said: “I'm sure for these missing cases at the moment, it's sort of a similar situation where they want an outlet and that's what they're turning to.

“A lot of teenagers, especially kids from foster care, who go missing end up getting put into secure care homes.

“They’re literally locked in and it’s just like, was that hour of going missing worth it?”

The College of Policing says that “missing people may be at risk of harm resulting from factors”.

There are many risks and dangers when running away (Gareth Fuller/PA)
There are many risks and dangers when running away (Gareth Fuller/PA)

These may be an inability to cope with weather conditions and being the victim of a violent crime.

Jade said: “In the moment, it [running] seems like the best decision, but the consequences that will follow will put you in an even worse position and maybe lead you to do it again.

“It's not just me or the people in the news – before you know it, it will be you and you're the one that's been hurt.”

There is support out there but Jade says no one can be forced to stop running away.

“For me, I had to choose to change, and no one else could do that for me, I had to do it for myself.

“If you want to change tomorrow morning, that's up to you.

“You write your own story.”

If you or a loved one are struggling, Facebook groups Walk for Missing, Missing and Missing but Safe are there to help.

Alternatively, you can contact Missing People through the runaway helpline on 116 000.

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