It was late 2012 when local entertainment promoter Tina Coldwell found out her son, Ben Ruotsalainen, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“I knew he had depression, but I didn’t realize how serious it was,” Coldwell said.
At the time, Ruotsalainen, who once worked at Mambo’s Pizza, was living in Alberta with his wife and young son.
Coldwell figured he was just dealing with stress. “He was married and young and having the pressures of that and making a living,” Coldwell said.
“I thought he was just immature and negligent and just wanted to move back to the Island.”
On the final day of December and some three weeks after being diagnosed as bipolar, Ruotsalainen committed suicide. He was 26.
“It was totally out of the blue,” Coldwell said.
Nearly two years after Ruotsalainen’s death, Mambo’s Pizza owner Marc Fillion decided to hold a 20th anniversary celebration party for the pizza shop and turned to Coldwell for help booking musicians.
The two created the Slice of Life Block Party, which took place last August and raised over $1,000 for the Vancouver Island Crisis Society, a Nanaimo-based organization that provides 24-hour telephone crisis support and suicide prevention programs.
On Saturday (Aug. 8) the second annual Slice of Life Block Party will take place at the China Steps.
“We’ve been part of the entertainment industry for awhile with being downtown and being a late-night eatery,” Fillion said. “So we thought it would be a good idea to have local musicians and just meet in that space [at the China Steps].”
The event, which is by donation, will again be raising money for the society.
“It is just something that is really important to help because a lot of people call the number every day and it is run by volunteers and they need as much help as they can,” Fillion said. “I just thought this would be a great opportunity to help.”
This year’s lineup features Sirreal, Boomshack, The Femme Fatales, Moonshine Mollys, Tom Jones, Kenny Brault, DJ Gwaja and DJ Social Status.
“I personally think it is one of the best lineups available,” Fillion said.For Coldwell, the Slice of Life Block Party is about turning a negative experience into something positive for others.
“I want people to get help before [suicide] happens,” she said. “I don’t feel sorry for myself about it. I just want to help people.”
Coldwell says she didn’t take her son’s depression and bipolar disorder as seriously as she could have.
“I didn’t recognize things very well,” she said.
Her advice to parents who have children experiencing depression is straightforward.
“I do think the line of communication has to be open,” Coldwell said. “If it is not you, then you do have to find someone for them to talk to because sometimes kids don’t want to talk to their parents.”
The Slice of Life Block Party takes place at the China Steps on Saturday (Aug. 8) at 7:30 p.m.
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