The integral relationship between virtue and the self-appraised subjective well-being of vulnerable youth heads of households in rural southern Malawi

Saturday, 16 November 2013: 3:55 PM

Pamela Fruechting, MSN, BS, RN, APRN, ONP-C
Wichita Medical Associates, Wichita, KS

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to summarize the relationship between neurobiological science, virtue, and holistic well-being of vulnerable youth heads of household.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will understand theoretical and practical implications of virtue in global health initiatives, child health theory, and the importance of child-centric research frameworks.

BACKGROUND:  Research on the well-being of youth-headed households in HIV-endemic sub-Saharan Africa typically relies on socio-economic and psychological indicators of vulnerability.  Less is known about youth-centric meanings of well-being.  This is the first known study to identify the centrality of virtue in the subjective well-being of youth heads of household. 

OBJECTIVE:  The purpose of this study was to discover key meanings of subjective well-being among youth heads of household in rural southern Malawi.

DESIGN:  Qualitative case study.

THEORETICAL BASIS:  Subjective well-being theory, interpersonal neurobiology, and holistic health.

SETTING:  Data collection in August 2012, rural southern Malawi, at an international NGO and its two community child centers.

METHOD: A convenience sample of youth heads of household (n=10) was recruited with assistance from the NGO and local leaders.  Data included 10 semi-structured youth interviews, a focus group of NGO administrators, conversations with 12 key informants, and researcher observation.

RESULTS:  Youth appraisals of well-being centered on interpersonal virtues.  Well-being emerged as a complex interaction of virtues, self-agency, interpersonal relationships, faith, and social opportunities.  Youth considered virtues vital for holistic health, effective social navigation, and attainment of future goals, while non-virtuous living was considered self-destructive. This is the first known study to identify virtue as integral to the self-appraised well-being of youth heads of households.

CONCLUSIONS/IMPLICATIONS:  Virtue as a health asset is an intriguing consideration for the well-being of vulnerable youth in resource-poor settings.  The relationship between virtue and well-being suggests a model of health consistent with neurobiological literature in which virtue, altruism, faith, and optimism are important mediators of physiological and emotional health.  Research opportunities include:  (1) Inclusion of virtue in pediatric holistic health models, (2) Virtue as a mitigator of vulnerability, (3) Child health as a function of societal virtues, and (4) Collaboration with NGOs for virtue development in pediatric health programs.