Former music executive Shanti Das describes her decision to step back from her successful career in the music industry as an “aha! moment.” Her time and efforts, she discovered, were better used as an advocate for mental health. Das says it wasn’t until she opened up about her struggles with depression that she realized just how many people in the entertainment industry and beyond were also suffering.
With more than two decades in the music industry, Das’ career started off on a high note when, as a new college grad, she was tasked with working on a promotional campaign for a young rap duo out of Atlanta. What was only intended to be a track on a Christmas compilation became Outkast’s breakout debut single “Player’s Ball.” She went on to work with other LaFace artists in the beginning stages of their careers like Usher, TLC, and Toni Braxton, and eventually found herself working on the marketing for Prince’s “Musicology” album. Her career took her from Arista to Columbia and Universal — but her newest project is perhaps her most important.
In 2017, Das officially launched Silence The Shame, an organization with the goal of eliminating the shame often associated with suffering from a mental illness. It’s a shame she’s endured all her life, from the time her father committed suicide when she 7 months old, to having her own suicidal ideations a few years ago. Utilizing her celebrity contacts, Das has been able to leverage the popularity of artists such as Big Boi, Nick Cannon, Chloe x Halle, and more to create an ongoing conversation about mental health.
The work of Silence The Shame extends from hosting panels in high-stress industries such as tech and entertainment, to partnering with legacy black organizations like Jack and Jill of America, Inc. to bring mental health resources to people throughout the country. While many people were enjoying margaritas on Cinco de Mayo, Das and her team were hosting Silence The Shame Day and raising roughly $30,000 dollars toward future programming.
We recently talked with Das about Silence The Shame, self-care, and how some musicians are working to erase the stigma of mental health through their art.
— — —
Shondaland: You’ve talked about having to take a step back from the music industry to thrive and focus on Silence The Shame. Have you found that redefining your definition of success took some of that pressure off of you, and allowed you to give yourself more self-care?
Shanti Das: Absolutely. I think for the first time in my life I realize what my purpose is. Using my platform in the entertainment industry has allowed me to be able to amplify my efforts with Silence The Shame. [I’m having] that “aha moment” that you hear about. It’s such a beautiful thing. I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long time. And knowing that you are changing lives and helping people to peel back those layers of stigma, it is so rewarding. I can’t even contain my joy sometimes. I feel like I’m doing my most important work right now. That’s not to negate any of the work I’ve done in entertainment, but this is life-saving work.
SL: Do you think celebrities are making strides in normalizing the conversation through their art?
SD: For someone like a Jay-Z to open up on his [“4:44”] album and talk about therapy, for Tina Knowles to talk about taking her daughters to therapy when they were growing up, seeing someone like Logic on the VMAs wearing the suicide prevention hotline number, or hearing J. Cole say “meditate, don’t medicate” — these are extremely pivotal moments when it comes to normalizing the conversation. Look at Mariah Carey. Her story was just on the cover of People sharing her  diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That speaks volumes for what’s going on in terms of the shift and the narrative, and the pivot in society. It’s huge.
I think what’s important is for those icons to work closely with the mental health advocacy groups that have the resources on the clinical side. [They need] to make sure that the messaging is in line with what we need it to be to make sure that people are getting the proper care that they need.
The wounded healer is someone who goes out into the community to empower by telling their own story.
SL: Unfortunately, you’ve had a close connection with suicide your entire life. Your father died by suicide when you were 7 months old and your best friend died by suicide four and a half years ago. You’ve also had suicidal ideations. Can you talk about how those instances have impacted you?
SD: It was difficult when my father [died by] suicide. My family never went to counseling. We all dealt with it on our own or just didn’t talk about it. It was pretty embarrassing when friends would ask me how my dad died.
Four and a half years ago my best friend took her own life and that was really, really tough for me. We’d been friends since the sixth grade and I talked to her the day before it happened. After it happened I think I went through a period of anger and guilt.
[At the same time I was] starting my life over and taking this leap of faith to do a lot of community service work. I was having these mental struggles of “What am I doing? Does my life have purpose? Why am I doing all of this community work when I was a superstar in the entertainment industry and all of my friends are at the top of their game?” The next year was just really tough for me. In September 2015 I seriously — for the first time in my life — considered taking my own life. I looked in my medicine cabinet to figure out what pills were there. I knew I didn’t want to use a gun. Because of what happened with my dad, I’m super afraid of them. I talked myself into a downward spiral and couldn’t come out of it that night. I ended up calling the suicide prevention hotline and I texted my pastor who convinced me to get help. He said, “I’ll pray with you, but I need you to go get some help.”
SL: Having watched some of the interviews you’ve already done on this topic, I worried that this might be triggering for you.
SD: My pastor told me about this notion of the wounded healer. The wounded healer is someone who continues to go out into the community to empower [by retelling their own] story. It gets difficult for me. That’s why it’s so important to have my own self-care regimen on a daily and weekly basis. I’m still in therapy right now because I’m having to rehash the stories and share on a weekly basis. I’m grateful for all of the exposure that we’ve been getting, but sometimes it is a lot.
SL: Do you have any advice for people who might be trying to seek mental health treatment but are facing financial and healthcare roadblocks, or just aren’t as knowledgeable about where to begin looking for professional help?
SD: Mental health care is not included in the current healthcare plan that I have [as an entrepreneur]. I have to come out of pocket when I want to see a psychiatrist or a therapist. A lot of psychiatrists and therapists nowadays charge based on a sliding scale, which is based on your income. I suggest visiting sites like NAMI, Mental Health America, [and] Therapy for Black Girls. There are some really good resources out there. Silence The Shame has a podcast and we interview a lot of licensed healthcare professionals that provide their information. What we’re planning on doing in the next year or two is putting together a national database of therapists in different cities.
SL: In addition to the podcast, what is some of the other content Silence The Shame is creating to spread your message?
SD: We’re continuing to interview everyday people, licensed professionals, and celebrities. And [we are] continuing to do the panel discussions. We just finished a mini webisode on teen depression. We’re working on doing some documentaries around mental health and wellness, and PTSD in the fall or spring of 2019. We’re also working with local poets and artists to try and create art exhibitions in various cities. Art is an expression of self and I think a lot of people that suffer from mental health disorders can find therapy through art.