Ms. Smith’s diagnoses began with inattention.
In fourth grade, she struggled in school and her family sought the help of a psychiatrist, who prescribed Focalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an increasingly common diagnosis. Looking back at his own high-school days in the early 1980s, her father, Kevin Smith, wonders if he too had suffered from A.D.H.D. He “just zoned out,” he recalled. “It drove my dad nuts.”
Mr. Smith coped a different way, by playing sports, being outdoors and, sometimes, drinking. But his troubles were seen by his own father as a character flaw. “He’d say, ‘Go get in that room, and I’ll hit you a couple of times with the belt. That’ll straighten you out,’” Mr. Smith said.
He vowed not to let his own children suffer any mental health issue unaddressed. “I try vigorously to give Renae all the tools she needs to combat it,” he said.
In eighth grade Ms. Smith showed signs of depression. “Instead of going to class, I’d go to the guidance counselor and cry for the whole period,” she said. She ventured reasons: Her father’s landscaping business struggled; there were challenges inside the family; she felt pressure to make it to a big-name university, which she saw as the only path to security and happiness. Without entry to a good college, she feared, “I’ll work in a supermarket the rest of my life.”
Her search to feel better led her and her family to various treatments and, eventually, to use of multiple drug prescriptions.
In 2018, in the spring of her freshman year, she visited New Horizon Counseling Center on Long Island. According to her psychiatrist’s notes, which she shared with The Times, Ms. Smith reported experiencing increased anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. “She agreed to try a small dose of Prozac (10 mg) once a day together with individual therapy,” the doctor wrote. New Horizon did not respond to inquiries from The Times regarding Ms. Smith’s case.