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Afghan Refugee – Mental Illness Startup Founder – Sophia Mahfooz

 Sophia-1-1-683x1024 Afghan Refugee - Mental Illness Startup Founder - Sophia Mahfooz

is a survivor, she is a role model and she is
one of the most inspiring people I’ve met. She was born
pre-maturely, as her village in Afghanistan was bombed while her
young parents fled to a refugee camp. This trauma shocked her mother
into labor and left Sophia with very little chance to survive.
Shortly after this, her family quickly fled the war-torn village
where she was born after their home was destroyed.

Sophia spent many of her formative years living as a refugee in
Afghanistan, and later in England. In our conversation, she tells
the story of her family fleeing Afghanistan, making their way to
England, and eventually how she moved to San Francisco to become an

She originally
traveled to the U.S. to care for her brother who struggled with
bipolar disorder. She couldn’t afford to seek treatment for him
within the U.S. healthcare system, and she couldn’t send him back
to England, so she decided to figure out another way to treat him.
Her efforts resulted in a solution that she hopes to replicate and
commercialize for others who are trying to help their loved ones find
relief from serious mental illness in a cost effective, and natural

She is building a
startup to bring her vision to market to help others. Her business
is called NeuroX.

You can
connect with Sophia here:
, Facebook,


  1. Sophia details her early childhood experience. She tells a harrowing story of survival, escape, and how her family found their way to safety after her village was bombed.
  2. She explains the difficulties of being an immigrant / refugee. Sophia talks about some of the difficulties refugees and immigrants face that I had never thought of before. One specific thing she explains is that she never got a birth certificate which makes it nearly impossible for her to navigate parts of life that we take for granted (identification, travel, visa, etc.).
  3. Sophia shared about growing up in England and living what felt like two separate lives. There was the life she lived at school where she spoke English and pretend to be a “normal” child who fit in with others. Then there was the other life she lived at home where she spoke a different language, at different food than her friends and often felt isolated because of her race, and heritage.
  4. She talked about her family’s history of mental illness. Her father had bipolar disorder, and she talks about how she believes it to be a byproduct of the stress he had to endure to survive. She also shares that her brother later suffered from bipolar disorder.
  5. Sophia traveled to the United States to take care of her brother when he was struggling with manic episodes from bipolar. She said that they couldn’t afford to admit him to a hospital in America for treatment, and it wasn’t feasible to send him back to England for help. This led her to try to find a solution on her own.
  6. The idea for her startup, NeuroX came from this pursuit of a solution for her brother. She researched non-medical treatments for bipolar disorder and found evidence that such treatments existed. Sophia started to try different techniques from diet, to meditation, exercise, and other wellness routines with her brother. He showed signs of improving and over time he was able to live a better life.
  7. Now Sophia is working to build a program based on what she learned, helping her brother, to facilitate other family members of people struggling with mental illness. Her platform is designed to be a resource for people suffering from mental illness and their loved ones as they try to find natural, cost effective solutions.

Connect with the Stigma Podcast in the following ways: Website,

Connect with
host Stephen Hays here:
Hays Personal Website
, Twitter,
What If
Ventures (Mental Health Venture Fund)

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