Business

Why This Former Music Exec Now Promotes Mental Health Awareness Full-Time

Shanti Das
Courtesy of Silence the Shame, Inc.

Silence the Shame panel April 30th, 2019. From left: Jennifer Lett from MusicCares, David Lighty (music executive and brother to the late Chris Lighty), Michael "Blue" Williams (manager), Joi Brown (Atlantic Records), Shanti Das (Founder/ Executive Director Silence the Shame, Inc), Charlamagne tha God (Breakfast Club host), Dr. Cynthia Lewis (Board Certified Psychiatrist), Dr. Randy Sconiers (LCSW)

In 1991, Shanti Das got her start in the music business with an internship at Capitol Records; about a decade later, she had worked with everyone from Outkast to TLC to Usher to Prince. Around the same time, she recalls, “that’s really when I first started dealing with some of my anxiety, but I didn’t really know what to call it.” By 2005, she was working 18-hour days and -- in a pre-hashtag age -- proudly a member of Team No Sleep. “When I looked back on it, it was like, gosh, my body was just crying out for wellness.”

Four years later, she made the difficult decision to quit her job -- despite her upward trajectory, in which she was eyeing roles as general manager or president or urban music at a major -- and move from New York back home to Atlanta, where she started consulting. “It was really hard walking away from, you know, a career that I had worked so hard for,” she says today. But it was also a career that was no longer just taking a mental toll, but a physical one, too. Das was soon after diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis, “which people typically get when they're like in their 60s, and I was in my late 30s. My doctor was like, ‘This is definitely a result of stress.’”

In place of corporate stress, Das was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer's, the death of her uncle, financial instability and her best friend’s suicide. She hit a low, turning to pills over grief counseling, and remembers clearly her sister suggesting she call the national suicide prevention lifeline. She took her advice and also texted her pastor who said, “I'll pray with you, but you need to get help.”

As Das started to heal herself, she became more vocal about her friend’s passing on social media, catching the attention of Atlanta’s urban music station V103 who invited her on as a guest to speak on mental health awareness. “I said people shouldn’t be afraid to speak up,” Das recalls. “They should just silence the shame. That stuck with me and as I went home and thought about it for the next few days, I was like, ‘Man, I really need to do something with this.’

By May 2016, Das had obtained 501(c)(3) status and soft-launched her organization, then called Hip-Hop Professional Foundation (named after her self-published book of the same name) though later changed to Silence the Shame to better represent the mission of normalizing mental health specifically within communities of color. In its first year, Nick Cannon signed on as ambassador. By its second year, the movement had its own Silence the Shame day, now held annually on May 5, during which artists and executives post across social media to help raise awareness and spread the movement’s message.

This year, though, Silence the Shame day faced a new challenge: fundraising in a pandemic. While the annual text-a-thon remains in place, Das also introduced a virtual fundraiser concept called Dance to Donate, inspired by DJ D-Nice's Instagram Live "Club Quarantine" dance parties (“I was one of the first people that attended Club Quarantine,” says Das). And, as a result of no more in-person speaking opportunities, Das has also taken to Instagram, launching her Yeah Wellness series that has so far featured conversations with Ludacris, Chuck D, Estelle, Michelle Williams and more. And in celebration of Silence the Shame day, Tuesday's March 5) guests include Common and Swizz Beatz.

Das argues that now more than ever -- as feelings of disconnection and isolation are at a high during quarantine -- it’s important to encourage open dialogue about mental health, especially among creatives. “All of those symbolic losses, the loss of income or the loss of your identity, as an artist and as a performer, there’s only so much that you can do virtually. It's a lot to really weigh down on you mentally,” Das says.

Since launching Silence the Shame, Das has been humbled by the warm reception from former colleagues and peers, saying executives have even confided in her through text or DM. On a larger level, Jon Platt, CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and SB Projects’ Scooter Braun have invited her to deliver wellness chats at their respective companies. And, in addition to her corporate or event-based speaking engagements, Das hosts a bi-monthly podcast making her insight and prompts widely available to all.

Looking ahead, she hopes to grow her two-person team into a  global effort, expanding more in New York, Los Angeles and eventually London. But no matter how big her movement becomes, her core mission will always stay the same: “All I want to do is  help people heal the world,” she says, "and I really feel like I'm more of a benefit now to our community.”

Click here to donate to Silence the Shame, or text the word SILENCE to 707070.

Courtesy of Silence the Shame, Inc.
Keri Hilson and Shanti Das