By Alex Titus, NBC News
Music executive Shanti Das has spent the last 25 years championing the careers of Outkast, TLC, Toni Braxton, Young Jeezy, Usher, Stevie Wonder and Prince. The renowned marketing master has held prominent positions at Columbia Records, LaFace Records and Universal Motown.
Das is now using her platform for greater good by launching the Silence the Shame campaign to fight the stigmatization of mental health issues by encouraging people to seek treatment and support.
Tackling the drastic effects of mental health disorders hits very close to home for the 45-year-old industry veteran and author. Das herself has suffered from depression since experiencing a personal tragedy at a very young age.
“My dad committed suicide when I was seven months old and my mom had to raise three kids all by herself,” Das told NBCBLK. “It was really tough on us. It’s interesting because he was from India, but mom is African American, so I grew up in black culture. Traditionally, we don’t talk about mental health issues or seeking counseling in the black community, it’s very taboo. I saw my mom as this very sad individual, so my siblings and I had to figure out ways to cope our own. I’ve suffered from depression, as it relates to my dad’s death and at first I couldn’t figure where it was coming from.”
“For a long time, I didn’t want to tell people that he committed suicide,” said the self-proclaimed Hip Hop Professional. “I just told people that he passed away because I was embarrassed. From all that I’ve learned thus far from doing research and getting involved with organizations, it would’ve been better as a family if we would’ve dealt with it head on.”
Although Das eventually sought counseling in her early thirties, she feels it would’ve been more effective as a young adult. She also believes that it could’ve assisted her in helping her family members who suffered from similar health conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“It’s really easy for someone to pass judgement and say, ‘Well that person is crazy.’ Well guess what, usually, 9 times out of 10 they might have a chemical imbalance,” Shanti added.
Depression can spark from a number of obstacles; it is not only passed on generationally. It could stem from divorce, loss of a job or friendship, or any type of traumatic experience. “The first step is to start talking about it and not be ashamed. Surround yourself with buddies you can trust as a support system,” Das said.
Last year, Das’s battle with depression worsened. Fortunately, she had the right people around to guide her from sorrow to joy. The transparency was freeing for Das.
“Last September 2015, I hit rock bottom,” said Das. “I talked myself into a downward spiral and quite honestly, I didn’t want to be here. I was contemplating thoughts of suicide. I thought that maybe it would be okay if I did it, because of my dad and maybe it’s in my cards that I’m only supposed to be here for a short amount of time. It didn’t help that I was trying to self-diagnose and treat myself. For the first time, I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. My friends, family and even my pastor were like, ‘I love you, let’s pray our way through this, but you need to go see a doctor.’”
Seeing a psychiatrist and receiving support from loved ones saved her life and Das is paying it forward with Silence the Shame. Her goal is to reach as many young people as she can because children and teens today report higher rates of depression. Social media has created another level of competition between kids – which can ultimately lead to increased anxiety.
Das is going on a speaking tour to help educate communities about mental health treatment options.”There is help that’s out there,” she said. “I think we don’t know enough and we just speculate. It’s going to take the physiatrists and the psychologists, the pharmaceutical reps, health care and church leaders, and parents to come together.”
Although Das has taken note of more entertainers coming forth and sharing their experiences with depression, there’s still more to be done. Das believes more people would feel empowered to share their experiences and seek help, if those in the public eye did just that.
“We work in a high profile industry where people are always judging you. You’re constantly on camera and it can lead to some dark days,” said Das, now CEO of Press Reset Entertainment. “We’ve seen Robin Williams commit suicide as well as other NFL players and NBA players. I’ve seen artists like Kendrick Lamar, Jazmine Sullivan and Tasha Cobbs talk about their struggles dealing with depression. My friends and colleagues Shakir Stewart and the great Chris Lighty succumbed to suicide as well. As much as we don’t want to believe, these younger kids look up to our athletes and artists for influence. Starting the conversation is just scratching the surface.”
Das’s tight relationships in the industry have given her a fantastic head start on her campaign. She officially enlisted Nick Cannon as an ambassador for Silence the Shame and is lining up a few other celebs to come on board.
“I connected with Nick regarding some of the things I was going through at the time with my family and he could relate,” Das said. “It took me about a year and some change to pull everything together. I was taking meetings with local chapters that cater to mental health disorders and Nick said he’ll do whatever he could to help. I’m so grateful to have him on as my first ambassador.”
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