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Breaking the stigma: black step-motherhood and mental health

MUM ON A MISSION: Priscilla Appeaning

AT THE age of 27, Priscilla Appeaning became a first time stepmum to two young boys when she married her new husband.

Although Appeaning was the mother of two daughters already, she found herself entering into unfamiliar territory as she attempted to “blend” the two families. She felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and began to question where she could “fit in”.

The difficulties in her own personal life led Appeaning to the internet in search of positive platforms to channel her frustrations. While many mainstream outlets addressed the struggles of step-family integration, they were dominated by a white female narrative and offered no tangible solutions from a black woman’s perspective.

It seemed that the stereotypical image of a “strong black woman” robbed them of the opportunity to express their vulnerabilities and weakness. Instead, black women were – and still – are forced to internalise their feelings with damaging consequences to their mental wellbeing. Due to cultural barriers, Appeaning found that the challenges of being a stepmum were spoken about less in African and Caribbean communities.

To raise awareness for these stepmothers who are often overlooked, Appeaning founded an online support community. Providing women with a safe space to talk, she runs monthly socials to encourage stepmums – both young and old – to feel less isolated by normalising open discussions. And she's seen a wave of black women wanting to engage in conversations about their own experiences, which include battles with isolation, anxiety and depression.

On May 18 Appeaning will launch The Stepmums’ Club to challenge the stigma behind black step-motherhood. Appeaning plans to reverse the damaging notion of the “wicked stepmother stereotype” in a positive environment with the new initiative.

She is “now on a mission to change the way society looks at stepmums”. Her objective is to run workshops specifically for those who are struggling with their emotions and roles in blended families. The workshops will focus on the rational steps to manage conflict, encourage healthy relationships and give the black women who were once marginalised the platform to be heard.

With the support of black mental health workers, Appeaning believes that we all have a social responsibility to recognise the challenges associated with step parenthood. By creating this awareness she hopes it will encourage more people to spot the signs of a stepmum struggling and encourage early intervention.

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