…be consistent and have a routine. It’s good to be dynamic and grow but having the time of your day where you re-center your needs and make sure you’re hitting the areas that allow you to be you before moving forward is essential. For me, this is my journal time, and utilizing a note-taking method is definitely one of the better ways to make sure you’re hitting your mark, but even meditation, and grabbing a pack before heading out to work each day, like my co-founder does, as a routine, gives you a benchmark for so YUNO you best.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Shenkeri Chandramohan. Shenkeri us a food science entrepreneur who advocates for mental health, primarily through how the “green diamonds” around us, spices and herbs, improves mental health via gut + brain axis. Over the last half-decade, she has traveled the world for her communities within Lifehack, Elite Daily, and formerly-Vice expanding her phytochem and neuropsychology research with various opportunities such as working alongside a cluster of K-12 students and working alongside corporations to improve team and organizational benefits through food, culminating in her and her co-founder’s functional foods company, Food to Heal.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since I was a 10-year-old back in the boarding school, food has always been poignant in my memory. I was born with an eidetic memory, a photographic memory though it’s not always the right term, and a substantial genetic predisposition toward anxiety & depression with early signs of debilitating symptoms starting then, allowing me to process, retain, and utilize information fast, and efficiently yet my mind getting in the way of itself.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by those who understood the connections between the mind and the gut, albeit in a more traditional fashion, and it was during this time that I realized that this information did exist but in various forms across many different fields of sciences. I was curious to understand a solution and using the extensive information about herbs, spices, and the plethora of other ingredients around us to influence the Gut-Brain axis. This decade long journey of focusing on how to improve mental health through a better understanding of food and the Gut-Brain Axis that led me into my career path.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Mental wellness as a whole has had the sense of alienation and is surrounded by morbidity if you look into history the data on mental disorders, the public knowledge is distorted with mediums such as movies or documentaries only now beginning to capture the realities on the big screen. However, when I say alienation, this happens because of the same lack of information which creates a sense of fear and denialism, the same lack of knowledge surrounding the topic with morbidity. So to bring this lack of understanding into a tangible idea, let’s compare two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Would you call your physician if you seem to have: (1) fatigue, (2) frequent urination, and (3) numbness in the hands/feet?
Scenario 2: Would you call your physician if you seem to have a: (1) lack of concentration, (2) excess sleepiness, and (3) loss of appetite?
If you say yes to both, good for you on having a good understanding of your baseline functions and checking up on your mental health, yet if you choose yes to the first, and no to the second, as most people do, it shows that this is just a lack of general understanding, Scenario 1 shows diabetes, while Scenario 2 shows depression. We have denied our mental health improvement by avoiding the discussion, and more importantly, finding and setting the metrics on mental health improvement, it’s understandable as humans to have a fear of the unknown, but this unknown is too important not to begin to understand, as we are all now starting to realize.
There is a silver lining if the stigma can be disassociated and the advancement of knowledge triumphs, in that we, as humanity, have tried to understand this connection, through neuroscience, botany, herbology, nutrition, phytochemistry, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and others, but are seen as uncertain or “mystical” due to its eastern and burgeoning origins. If this shift occurs, this knowledge is a treasure trove of potentially viable directions of research with the map crudely drawn, all it needs is modern techniques to begin quantifying these experiments for the modern age.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
The stigma of mental health personally holds a significance for me, being shunned and feeling alienated isn’t uncommon and it pushed me more to the library to understand how to interpret mental health or what I was personally going through in a fashion that’s understandable, relatable, and, to be honest, add a little color to an issue that is as common as cold and can happen to anyone.
This is where YUNO comes from, YUNO portrays relatable functions/experiences we want to have and balance throughout a day from Energetic to help with feeling tired and fatigued, to Focus to with finishing off that check-list and have clarity, for Memory, so you always keep track of your day, money and aims, Zen to promote the sensation of pleasure, calm and joy, Uplift to keep you motivated and promote the confidence to navigate and draw a crowd, reduce nervousness and overthinking and finally sleep to promote a healthy circadian rhythm, REM sleep and feel refreshed and like you can conquer the world the next morning when you wake up.
YUNO is a step to address mental health pragmatically to innovate solutions by finding a way to communicate — I’m not talking about just “talking” instead I’m talking about perception, color, taste, and information. A perfect example would be, in a recent pitch completion where we revealed YUNO’s Collections with a crowdfunding party hosted by Ulule and The Farm Soho, a presenter came to me “ Hey can you talk to me more about Uplift — I sometimes get agitated and nervous, and I want to be able to pitch “, as I explained the value of having a personable persona towards describing mental health is how I took the direction of destigmatizing mental wellness.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
I struggled all my life with depression, anxieties, and ADHD. I was always the misunderstood kid when I was younger, but I learned to also adapt to society by ensuring I hit my mark in all my responsibilities. The lack of understanding and compounding effects lead me to my ledge, surviving it and following years just noticing and reading about the number of people who didn’t survive that ledge I knew the feeling. It isn’t a lack of courage to face the world, it isn’t they didn’t think about their loved ones, and it isn’t anything we presume it may be. The fact is we don’t know what it may be because an individual who’s going through something will always remember it best hence #YUNOyoubest however biologically we are built with a baseline of systems that we can adapt, improve, protect and nourish. We wanted to be able to create a product that allows for this to happen by innovating a product that promotes a sustainable balance among your gut-brain axis, gut-microbiome, and your neuronal chemistry.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
For individuals, I say the most significant support comes from being open to different ways of communicating mental health and be open to understanding the diverse nature of mental health.
Also, seriously, don’t fall for a faux diet and always know that you are unique, not your friend, colleague or parent and hence you have different biological needs. Understand your needs and adapt to it, look for professional help if you need and don’t be afraid of it because it’s like a cold, if you feel like you do need a professional, do seek help and if you’re good, you know.
In terms of society, the most important thing would be not to stifle the conversation of mental health as it grows through multiple angles. Rather than trying to box the discussion as a one-industry solution, we as a whole can better (1) portray struggle in a point of view of pragmatism and phases instead of promoting victimization, martyr or warrior mentality, (2) encourage products and tools that aren’t taking advantage of this issue instead is aimed to promote a step towards puzzling the puzzle of different individuals, and (3) promote a conversation based on solutions instead of voicing, screaming or fighting for a voice within the problem.
We currently need more solutions compared to loud voices. There’s a saying where the emptiest drum bangs the loudest — so let’s encourage a full conversation that creates action and shows results. We can’t improve everything but let’s take one step at a time.
And lastly, the government can do more to encourage corporations to take focus on mental health with opportunities for better foods and better services for our community. While it is expansive and ambiguous to tackle mental health, more can be done than leaving much of mental health off the table for discussion within foods leading to results such as Tufts University’s recent report that up to 100 Billion dollars could be reduced on our national healthcare spend if doctors began prescribing ingredients.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
The first would be setting yourself up for success. No matter what your mental state, it’s impossible to get started unless you know what you’re starting on and for what, I do this by utilizing my journal targeted toward what I do — this habit starting last year, my co-founder and I faced a turmoil after our partner facility had suddenly and unexpectedly went under and we needed a routine. So he got us EVO journals which is a journal personalized to your personality archetype and allows you to create flow. That has been essential for me, to pair my tasks to my YUNO.
Going from that, the second would have to start with taking YUNO. At the YUNO Offices each day, after my morning routine I observe what I ate the previous day, my sleep and what is routine looking like. I choose my YUNO based on what challenges and tasks I need to tackle during the day, usually I prefer the inhibitory collection particularly Zen and Uplift as it allows me to channel my already bubbling energy and memory in a strategic, productive and efficient manner.
The third is having those who support you and rely on you. So, this was last year September, as startups we go through obstacles and sometimes, they weigh on you. My co-founder and I realized that we needed another addition to each other for support, and while it’s great to have a partner to help you solve through the issues, we also realized quiet contemplation helps with bringing the best from the mental state. So, we adopted Odin, and whether it was destiny or a beautiful coincident or the power of visualization, we found him walking through a Saturday bazaar in Wall Street, left there by the owners and was probably going to be put to sleep if he didn’t find a foster. What started as a foster became our motivation and cute addition to the YUNO family.
The fourth is the gamification of the day. Anime’s and games such as DOTA and Hearthstone played a considerable influence in strategizing, problem-solving and being confident in both socializing and independent decisions. So, the same concept applies to my day; it gives the adrenaline and dopamine rush I need to accomplish my task to it best — hence each function of the day is a game and a level that I need to cross. I tend to include small tokens such as after every task I enjoy breaking records in “Odyssey” which is a mobile game. Spending time in the lab and teaching my co-founder “cool” experiments or most times debating a random topic and creating system roadmaps — “Mindly” is an excellent tool for that.
The fifth is a point I previously made, and I live by too. Understand your needs and adapt to it, look for professional help if you need and don’t be afraid of it because it’s like a cold, if you feel like you do need a professional, do seek help and if you’re good, YUNO you know. It’s hard to say, but after I began losing my support system when I was younger, and I began spiraling, it wasn’t until after my suicide did, I receive the type of help I needed. I’m thankfully past this tragedy and have learned, is a big part leading to YUNO, the research behind my mind and how to manage it utilizing my environment and food. Once again, this is what works for me as it’s a predisposition, so help in the right direction helps, but YUNO and other support all are parts of the solution which is unique to you and your needs.
And last but not least, the sixth point is to be consistent and have a routine. It’s good to be dynamic and grow but having the time of your day where you re-center your needs and make sure you’re hitting the areas that allow you to be you before moving forward is essential. For me, this is my journal time, and utilizing a note-taking method is definitely one of the better ways to make sure you’re hitting your mark, but even meditation, and grabbing a pack before heading out to work each day, like my co-founder does, as a routine, gives you a benchmark for so YUNO you best.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
As I continue learning and educating others about mental health through the gut-brain axis, there are quite a few books and resources that have inspired me to reach where I am are:
Books & Blogs
· Healthy Always — Danijela Unkovich
· The Good Mood Kitchen — Leslie Korn, PhD
· The Mind Gut Connection — Emeran Mayer, M.D.
· Lean In Malaysia & Leadapreneur — Jessica Macias
· The Farm Soho — Arzu Askin
And, of course, my guardian — who’s been there since day one.