SARATOGA SPRINGS — When it comes to mental health, speaking up can often be difficult.
Elaine Anton-Lotruglio, the founder of The Circle of Mothers Saratoga, knows this well. She established the support group following her own experiences as the mother of a child struggling with mental health.
“For me, it seemed like one day he woke up and he just said he didn’t want to live anymore,” said Anton-Lotruglio.
In the following years, her son attended a boarding school and a therapeutic wilderness program in Utah, before eventually finishing high school at what Anton-Lotruglio described as a “therapeutic boarding school.”
“He’s in a really good place, but it took a lot to get him there, and it was complete anguish for me, and his brother, and for my husband,” said Anton-Lotruglio.
Her son is doing well these days, she said, and is currently a junior in college. But the family’s experience empowered Anton-Lotruglio to try to make a difference for other families who may be going through similar experiences.
She attended a parent night led by a local mother who had lost her son to suicide, and came to a realization after several other parents spoke up about their childrens’ mental health struggles.
“It dawned on me that there are people like that hiding behind closed doors, because they’re ashamed, they don’t want other people to know they’re struggling,” Anton-Lotruglio said. “There’s so much shame around this that it’s just so upsetting, because literally that silence is deadly.”
Anton-Lotruglio booked a room in the basement of the Saratoga Springs City Library, officially laying the roots for The Circle of Mothers Saratoga. The support group meets on the last Wednesday of every month at 7:30 p.m.
“There are guidelines, rules. There’s no advice given. Everybody shares time, no one person can dominate the conversation. We don’t judge, we don’t give advice, we just listen,” said Anton-Lotruglio. “No one has to speak if they don’t want to. If you just want to listen, that’s perfect too. Nobody has to divulge anything they don’t want to, but if they hear something that another parent says that helps them, perfect.”
While she said the group tends to be “really small,” in size, its impact seems to be large. Anton-Lotruglio said she receives messages nearly every week from parents who are dealing with mental health crises in their children. She stressed that, “Whatever’s said in the circle stays in the circle.”
She also stressed the importance of speaking up, saying that silence only leads to more deaths by suicide.
“If you are silent about suicide, deaths occur,” said Anton-Lotruglio. “That was really troubling for me. …If you’re silent about these things, the silence is actually what perpetuates adolescent suicide. Because people are afraid to talk about it, children die.”
Anton-Lotruglio said she loves “that people know I’m a resource,” saying she wished she had a similar support group when her son was struggling.
“I was so lost and so afraid. … I wish I had that at the time,” she said. “For me to be able to be vocal about it, and hopefully make it easier for someone else to have someone to talk to. … I’m so glad that I can do that, that I can be that.”
Anton-Lotruglio has held administrative positions at universities, and as a former Division 1 lacrosse player at Hofstra University, she has spent several years coaching lacrosse at a variety of levels, including helping lead the Saratoga Springs varsity girls lacrosse team to the Section II Class A Championship in 2018.
Now, however, Anton-Lotruglio is back in school, with the goal of obtaining a PhD in social work. She said she is currently studying “the idea of a precipitating event that leads to an adolescent suicide.”
“Like, what happens that they decide that today is the day?,” said Anton-Lotruglio. “If we can identify that, if there’s a red flag. Something happens, a relationship breakup, or a bad event that occurs in a day. Can we identify that, and have that be a red flag, and then monitor a young adult more closely, so that we can prevent it?”
Despite her studies, Anton-Lotruglio stressed that the group is not therapeutic in nature, but instead simply a group of mothers supporting each other, saying, “It’s a mother’s group, not a therapeutic group.”
She also said she hopes to inspire others to share their stories, and feel comfortable doing so, saying we must “stop judging other parents because their kids are struggling.”
“By me sharing, I hope that I’m inviting other people to share, or to feel better about where they are, and know that they’re not the only ones,” said Anton-Lotruglio. “Other people are going through it, they’re just not talking about it. So I talk about it.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, there is help available. Call 988 or text TALK to 741741.