by Gwendolyn Quinn
A 25-year music and entertainment business veteran, Shanti Das was seven months old when her father committed suicide. Das and her siblings grew up feeling haunted, stigmatized, and embarrassed over his death for many years.
Das, who has suffered from depression, is determined to stomp out the silence surrounding mental illness. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Das’ Hip Hop Professional Foundation (HHPF) kicks-off its inaugural global social media awareness initiative #SilencetheShame on Friday, May 5, with a range of diverse celebrity talent including Nick Cannon, who was the first celebrity to get on board, as well as Andra Day, Will Packer, Jeezy, BBD, Estelle, Stephanie Mills, Terri J. Vaughn, Chloe x Halle, Shanice, Flex Alexander, Takeo Spikes, Ed Lover, Nicci Gilbert Daniels, among many others.
The HHPF’s Silence the Shame weekend continues through Sunday, May 7, in Atlanta, Georgia. On Saturday, May 6, HHPF will host the Silence the Shame Community Health Fair and Symposium at Jean Childs Young Middle School from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mental health care professionals and members of the faith-based community will lead a series of panel discussions to create awareness and educate the community on various topics related to mental health disorders and available treatment and services.
On Sunday, May 7, Silence the Shame weekend will conclude with two church services led by the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Ministry, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a longtime member. This is the first time in Ebenezer’s history that a sermon will be delivered on the shame and stigma of mental illness. Both sermons will be streamed live during the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. ET services.
A well-respected and established executive and entrepreneur, Das has worked with a who’s who of entertainment, including Usher, Outkast, TLC, Toni Braxton, Prince, and Erykah Badu. She held senior-level management positions at the Capitol, LaFace and Columbia Records labels as well as at music corporations Sony Urban Music and Universal Motown. The founder of Press Reset Entertainment, an Atlanta-based marketing firm, Das uses her influence to galvanize celebrities to participate in a public discussion about mental health issues. “In the age of social media, and with everyone’s life on the daily grandstand, my goal is help normalize the conversation surrounding these issues,” says Das. “If I can help to get people to comfortably talk and to share it from an influencer and celebrity standpoint, then hopefully I can create awareness within our community as well as the larger community.”
Das’ personal experience with mental health has been daunting. Her mother, Gloria Das, did the best she could to raise her three children after her husband’s suicide. With a seven-month-old infant, a five-year-old and an eight-year-old, and working both days and nights, Mother Das shielded her kids from the pain and suffering surrounding the loss of their dad.
“My mom shut down, and we didn’t talk about my dad’s suicide as a family,” says Das. “People would ask, ‘What happened to your father?’ and I would just say, ‘Oh, he died,’ because it was too painful for me to talk about. As a result, my siblings and I had to deal with it on our own. My sister started going to counseling when she was in college. My brother, I don’t know that he ever properly dealt with it, and then I dealt with it once I was in my 30s, while living in New York City.”
Ready to face the challenges ahead by seeking help, Das finally went to a therapist as an adult. It was the first time in her life that she forgave her father after spending all those years being angry with her dad. It wasn’t until she reached adulthood, started therapy and learned that depression is an illness that she started to understand that blaming the victim wasn’t the solution. She then became sensitized to what her father could have been going through. Unfortunately, his sickness was not addressed in time and he never received the help needed.
The year 2015 was extremely tough for Das. She too had suicidal thoughts. Her sister convinced her to call the suicide prevention hotline to get the help she needed. Her pastor, the Rev. Dr. Warnock, who was also very supportive, told her, “You can’t pray your way through this one. You really need to go to the doctor.”
Das visited her psychiatrist, who prescribed her antidepressants to cope. Although Das never made any attempts to kill herself, she said she came close. “I truly considered and thought about it. I thought about how I would do it. I had planned out what my funeral would be like, how family members and friends would react, what my colleagues would say or wouldn't say. Yeah, it was very, very close.” Thankfully, her courage and quick action provided her with the much-needed support to get through that very dark period in her life.
“I started thinking about my dad again, and it all came to a head, and I talked myself into a downward spiral,” says Das. “Different things in my life changed. I walked away from a lucrative career and started over. I started doing more community service while maintaining several music projects and clients. It was that experience that birthed Silence the Shame. My best friend also had committed suicide three and a half years ago. I have a family member that suffers from bipolar disorder. I felt like, for whatever reasons, these situations were placed in my life; God wanted me to deal with it head-on and be a voice of light.”
Nowadays, Das takes better care of herself. She watches her diet, exercises to get those endorphins going, and she takes yoga regularly. She also keeps her stress level down. She prays every morning, and although she knows you cannot pray away certain illnesses, she believes it’s important to have a spiritual component in your life.
“I know how to keep myself centered,” she says. “There’s no shame and stigma on my end for having to take medication to help me get better. That's no different than anybody who has diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. But when it comes to mental health, sometimes people throw out the word ‘crazy.’ What’s ‘crazy?’ It’s a chemical imbalance, and so you get something to help balance out those chemicals. I’m trying to eradicate people from thinking that someone is crazy.”
A devoted daughter, Das and her siblings are grateful to have their mother in their lives. Stricken with Alzheimer’s and now 85 years old, Mother Das lives, in the memory care ward of an assisted living facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Being in a memory care facility has done wonders for her,” says Das of her mom. “We're very grateful that she’s in a great facility. My mother is doing well. She still knows who I am, thank God. She still can get out. And we can take her to lunch now and then. Spending the night is a little bit challenging now because sometimes she gets confused with her surroundings. Our conversations are very basic. She still repeats everything three, four, five, and six times, but I’m comfortable with that. If my mom still recognizes me, that’s the biggest blessing, that she knows who I am. We deal with everything else as it comes. One of the funniest things my mother said to me? ‘You know, you should consider moving in here. You know, they take care of your room and board, and you don’t ever have to cook. I really think you should move in.’”
Das gets her greatest joy from spending time with her mother, giving back to the community that gave her so much, building her foundation and developing its many initiatives. Although she is no longer on antidepressants, she is not opposed to ever getting back on them if she or her doctor feels it’s necessary. “I am sharing my testimony so that people know I’m human,” she says. “Hopefully, what I've been able to share will help other people.”
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is a contributor to BlackEnterprise.com, Black Enterprise’s BE Pulse, Huffington Post, EURWEB.com, and Medium.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business.