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Content Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of suicidal thoughts.
On the surface, Shanti Das was the portrait of success. She had a six-figure job, drove an expensive car, and worked with top-notch hip-hop and R&B artists like Usher and Outkast. She has held numerous executive positions at the prestigious record labels Capitol Records, LaFace Records, Sony Music and more. But Das walked away from music when her mental health deteriorated, and she knew something had to change.
“I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ And that’s something that I’ve worked so hard on all my life,” Das said. “It’s just one thing after another, and I had an emotional breakdown at the airport and I got said, ‘You know, you don’t have to do this anymore.'”
On Wednesday evening, Das, a graduate of the Newhouse School’s television, radio and film program, spoke to students as part of the Leaders in Communication lecture series about her journey in the entertainment industry and her work for dispel the stigma surrounding mental health. She also spoke about the experience of founding her nonprofit, Silence the Shame, which works to eliminate mental health stigma and reduce disparities in access to health care. mentality between different socio-economic groups.
But Das didn’t always recognize that she was suffering from depression or that she needed help. She recalled calling her time at SU “bad days,” something everyone had to deal with, as she didn’t feel comfortable being vulnerable with how she really felt.
She worked hard in her classes and held leadership positions in student organizations like Z-89 Radio, which eventually landed her an internship at Sony Music right out of college. Then, four months later, she was hired by LaFace Records as Director of Promotions.
For Das, the “change” came when her job took her to New York, when the fast-paced and high-stress entertainment industry engulfed her life. It was her first time working in a company and, by nature, the music is 24 hours a day, which she says only complicates things.
“No boundaries were drawn. I would work any time of the day or night. Then I also had to deal with guys trying to talk to me and that made me feel uncomfortable” Das said, “I kind of started wearing baggy clothes as a distraction so I didn’t have to deal with all the sexual advances. It was just a lot of things that really stressed me out about the industry.
Obviously Das was in pain. She said her depression got worse and she even started to wonder if continuing in life was worth it.
“I went home to my boyfriend at the time and said, ‘I don’t know if this is for me. Maybe I should just kill myself,'” Das said. we will hear people in society throwing these words around.Sometimes they pretend but when you hear someone say it you really have to take it seriously.
Das then decided to start therapy and actively work to improve his mental health. Looking back at her life and work, she began to realize that her passions no longer followed a path of entertainment.
It occurred to Das that if she felt the way she felt – suffering in silence – there were probably countless other people who felt the same way, but because of the stigma they felt they had to hide. Then it clicked. Das stepped away from her role at Universal Music and took a chance, forming Silence the Shame, to change the perception of mental illness in the music industry.
“I was making $500,000 a year, when I had a Range Rover, a corner office. I have traveled around the world. I’ve done all the award shows and stuff, and worked with some amazing artists,” Das said. “I wouldn’t try to say I wish things were better, but I wish I had better ways of coping.”
Das’ message also resonated with his audience, many of whom were students. Public relations student Julia Stehr said Das’ story is common in today’s work-oriented society, and the message that it’s okay to be vulnerable and to give the priority is the one that all young people must hear.
“A lot of times you feel like someone who works at a high profile company doesn’t experience the same struggles as the average person,” Stehr said. “I can see how important it is for someone in the industry to be vulnerable with these things, so we’re all learning that’s fine.”
Another student present, Grace Piatko, a second-year broadcast and digital journalism student, echoed the importance of feeling seen and validated. Surrounded by high-achieving students, Piatko admitted that she struggled to compare herself to herself and often felt very lonely.
But hearing someone like Das, who has the accolades and success, admit that she struggles too helped Piakto realize that it’s okay not to be well.
“I always feel like I’m the only one going through trauma and struggling. (Das) made me feel like I could get over my trauma and struggle because she had to deal with so much and turned her struggles into something positive,” Piatko said. “Things are looking up. She showed it.”
Das’ work in the field of mental health is far from over and she hopes to make Silence the Stigma a household name, especially on college campuses. For Das, there is always work to be done – mental health is not a tick box – and she will work to improve herself and her organization for the rest of her life.
“I feel like my destiny was already written and my purpose,” Das said. “That’s what I do now – live my purpose.”
Published on November 30, 2022 at 11:37 p.m.
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