Social behaviour change: a game-changer to reduce stigma

Joseph Mensah, June 2023

Stigma is a significant obstacle for people with disabilities, including mental health conditions.

It stops people from being able to access their rights and can lead to discrimination, exclusion, social isolation and negative self-worth.

Social behaviour change (SBC) is about influencing healthy and inclusive behaviours – the actions that people carry out – and creating a supportive environment for more inclusive behaviour to flourish. It’s an essential part of reducing stigma.

At Sightsavers, we’ve learned a lot as we’ve developed our work on SBC, particularly in Ghana where we worked with partners on an innovative programme focusing on inclusion and stigma reduction for people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions. We want to share some of our most valuable lessons from the Ghana Somubi Dwumadie to help others deliver inclusive and accessible social behaviour change programmes. Ghana Somubi Dwumadie (Ghana Participation Programme) is a four-year disability programme in Ghana, with a specific focus on mental health. This programme is funded with UK aid from the UK government.

Find champions to lead the way

Inclusion champions (people responsible for actively promoting inclusion) and people with disabilities acting in leadership positions play powerful roles in creating a positive culture of support. They can help to break down stigma, raise awareness, and provide practical support to individuals and families affected by disability and mental health conditions. They can help promote understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities and mental health conditions. They can also encourage the adoption of positive language and behaviours in communities. If people with disabilities hold leadership positions, they can influence policy and decision-making processes, ensuring that accessibility and inclusivity are properly considered.

A large group of people gather together for a photo outside a building. Some people are seated, some are standing and there is a man in a wheelchair at the front of the group.

Ghana Participation Programme

As part of Ghana Somubi Dwumadie, we helped improve support for people with disabilities, improving access to services and tackling stigma around mental health conditions.

Learn about the project

Get community leaders involved

Religious and traditional leaders play an important role in facilitating a positive culture of support in their communities. They have significant influence and can help challenge negative attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes, and promote understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions.

They can also help promote positive language and behaviours in their communities, making sure everyone is aware how important it is when talking about people with disabilities and about mental health. By doing this, they can create an inclusive environment that supports all members of the community.

Focus on language

Changing negative disability language is challenging, but it is possible. By developing local language guides and through the efforts of inclusion champions and community and religious leaders, new language can be embedded in everyday life to help reduce stigma. Language guides can help people understand how to use appropriate language when talking about people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions. This approach ensures that the language used is respectful and empowering, promoting inclusivity and accessibility.

New language can be embedded into everyday life to help reduce stigma.

Emphasise positive media coverage

The media has an important part to play in reducing the use of derogatory language and promoting positive disability representation. By reporting accurate information and showcasing positive stories of individuals with disabilities, the media can help to break down stereotypes and reduce stigma. It is also important that media platforms are accessible and inclusive. Media houses can help challenge negative stereotypes and promote understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities, including people with mental health conditions. They can also provide opportunities for people with disabilities to share their stories and experiences, helping to increase awareness and understanding.

The difference it makes

Being a frontliner in implementing Ghana Somubi Dwumadie, an inclusive and accessible SBC intervention, I can say for a fact that social behaviour change is gaining ground. Grantees and participants that I have met appreciate that it’s a good way to reduce disability stigma.

On one of my monitoring visits, I met Selase, a programme participant with a physical disability. He told me that before the project, people in his community disregarded and disrespected him and other people with disabilities – but as a result of the SBC activity, they’re now treated with dignity and respect. Selase has been assigned as a choir organiser in his church, and he took a leading role in organising a zonal rally at the end of last year.

As part of the project, Sightsavers organised accessible design training for grantees and partners. They have testified about how valuable it was, and participants learned skills such as how to choose the right colours, fonts and sizes for posters and other materials to make their activities inclusive and accessible. I supported grantees after the training through ongoing coaching, technical guidance and feedback mechanisms to help them understand how to implement accessible design and delivery of SBC interventions.

Everything we learned about effective social behaviour change programmes through working on Ghana Somubi Dwumadie will inform future SBC projects at Sightsavers. We know that we need to pay attention to the roles of inclusion champions, religious and traditional leaders, media houses and community chiefs. By doing this, we’ll help make sure our programmes are effective in reducing stigma and promoting positive attitudes towards people with disabilities and mental health conditions.

Interested in learning more or partnering with us on social behaviour change projects? Contact Joseph by emailing [email protected]

SBC is gaining ground and everything we learned will inform future SBC projects.


Joseph Mensah is Sightsavers’ technical adviser for civil society organisation grants and social movement. He is based in Ghana.


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