Objective: To examine associations between recreational use of kava and indicators of suicidal behaviour among youth in New Caledonia.
Methods: This cross-sectional community-based survey was administered to 1,400 young people aged 16–25 years. A multivariate analysis tested for associations between lifetime kava use and lifetime suicidal ideation and attempts. Because ethnicity affected the correlation between kava use and suicidal behaviour, data were analysed separately for Kanak youth and youth of other ethnic communities.
Results: Overall, 42% of respondents reported any lifetime kava use, 34% reported past suicidal ideation and 12% any suicide attempts. Among Kanak youth, kava use increased the likelihood of reporting both suicidal ideation (aOR = 2.40, 95% CI: 1.58–3.66) and suicide attempts (aOR = 1.98, 95% CI: 1.11–3.52). No such association was found in the non-Kanak group.
Conclusions: The discrepancy between the effects of kava drinking on suicidal behaviour between Kanak youth and youth of other ethnic groups may be related to differences in patterns and quantity of kava use. In view of the paucity of data on the effects of kava on mental health in young people, further investigation is required.
Implications: The results call for an increased awareness of the potential adverse health effects of kava consumption in New Caledonia where it has spread in recent times and among communities where previously it was never used.