Prince Harry car chase: Potential psychological impact on the royal following Diana's death

The way in which Diana died may have caused "hyper vigilance" in Harry, says a leading psychologist.

·5-min read

Watch: Prince Harry and Meghan were in a 'relentless' car chase for over 2 hours

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say they have been involved in what they have described as a “near-catastrophic car chase".

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex - along with Meghan's mother Doria Ragland - were subjected to a “relentless pursuit” lasting two hours and involving half a dozen blacked-out vehicles in New York on Tuesday night, according to the couple’s spokesperson.

As a divisive couple, social media users have put forward their own thoughts about the experience, with some Twitter users doubting the severity of the chase.

"It's just H&M lining up their next installment [sic] for Netflix," one user tweeted.

"Wasn’t most of the ‘car chase’ conducted crawling through traffic at 1-3 mph," another voiced.

"Anyone else feel like this prince Harry chase is all just for attention?" another user posed. "The video the released from the “paparazzi “ has his wife posing and looking amazing."

Read more: Who is Doria Ragland? Meghan Markle's mum joins her on red carpet at awards ceremony

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Doria Ragland attended the Ms. Foundation Women of Vision Awards before the 'car chase'. (Getty Images)
The 'car chase' incident happened after Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Doria Ragland attended the Ms. Foundation Women of Vision Awards. (Getty Images)

But, many others, including Jess Phillips MP have an alternative viewpoint of the incident.

"Cannot believe I'm going to wade in on this, as I suspect there is little good faith on the subject but if my mother had been killed in a paparazzi chase when I was a child I suspect I may have a different perception (trauma response) to a similar event occuring [sic], than others," she tweeted.

"Things that seem completely inane to others can really scare me since my friend was killed for doing our job. Hyper vigilance is a curse as well as a protection."

Prince Harry and Meghan leave the Women of Vision Gala on Tuesday night in New York, before their reported 'car chase'. (Getty Images)
The car chase was said to have occurred after Prince Harry and Meghan left the Women of Vision Gala on Tuesday night in New York. (Getty Images)

Car chase possibly traumatised Prince Harry more than it would others

While it is not uncommon for celebrities to evade the paparazzi, psychologist Barbara Santini believes the experience may have been particularly traumatic for Harry, having lost his mother in a car crash in 1997 during a pursuit by photographers.

"This ordeal could have reawakened deeply rooted memories and emotions, leaving him feeling profoundly unsafe," she explains. "The car chase likely resurrected the pain and grief associated with the loss of his mother, intensifying his traumatic response."

Santini points out that reliving this traumatic experience may have induced "hyper vigilance" in the duke, heightening his awareness of potential threats and unsafe situations.

Read more: 'Meghan was lovely, respectful' and 'kind': Restaurant worker shares Duchess of Sussex experience

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex receive a lot of attention from photographers at every event they attend. (Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex receive a lot of attention from photographers at every event they attend. (Getty Images)

The potential impact of PTSI

Of course, Prince Harry has previously spoken out about how he “healed” from Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) after the death of his mother, and it is possible this also played into the perception of his experiences earlier this week.

"Anyone that has been diagnosed with PTSI (Post Traumatic Stress Injury, which is now the preferred term over disorder) will have situations that may trigger their nervous system," explains Claire Goodwin-Fee, a psychotherapist and trauma expert who runs charity FRONTINE19.

"With PTSI your nervous system is activated to a heightened level where you perceive your life is in threat. This is a subconscious and often powerful reaction to outside stimulus such as a car chase or crash.

"Like small switches in the brain we attach certain things to the traumatic memory," she continues. "Say a smell, colour or sensation. The person who is triggered has no control over this response and can feel overwhelmed and highly distressed."

In this instance Goodwin-Fee believes that given the father of two's openness about his own mental health and trauma he may well have been triggered by this situation - especially a car chase.

"His response may flip a switch (trigger) and although in the moment he would be responding to what he believes is happening in the here and now, it would be a reaction to previous events/memory," she explains.

"This in essence in this type of situation is a trauma response."

According to Baldwin-Fee in trauma your body responds as if on automatic pilot, forcing you into survival mode - often called fight or flight response.

"This means that you can have a much bigger response to an activating event based on your previous experiences rather than what's happening in the here and now," she explains.

Meghan Markle being pictured by photographers. (Getty Images)
Both Meghan Markle and Prince Harry receive a lot of attention from photographers. (Getty Images)

Read more: How fans and critics have reacted to Harry attending Charles's coronation without Meghan

Treatment for PTSI

PTSI is a debilitating and overwhelming condition that needs professional support but can be treated successfully.

  • Treatments such as counselling and specific techniques such as EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing

  • BWRT - Brain Working Recursive Therapy; can really help with turning down or even alleviating responses such as these that can be retraumatizing in themselves. Untreated this can lead to people feeling suicidal.

"It's important to remember that any of us can be affected by PTSI, trauma or similar and that there is much information and support out there if you are struggling," Goodwin-Fee adds.

Help and support

Mind's helplines provide information and support by phone and email.

Anxiety UK supports people with anxiety disorders, including PTSD.

UK Psychological Trauma Society provides an online list of UK trauma services.