PhD in Health Sciences
With an indispensable background working in harm reduction, alongside a desire to give back to his Indigenous community, Erik Mohns is working with the Indigenous Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (I-HeLTI) team to inspire innovative ideas and research.
When it comes to improving the lives of people in one’s community, Erik Mohns has led by example with his passion for mental health, addiction, and built environments. Joining the Faculty of Health Sciences for the I-HeLTI team, he is working on optimizing earlier life trajectories for Indigenous people.
“I’m an Indigenous graduate student from the Hupačasath First Nation, so this work is a direct way to use my skills and work with and give back to the community I come from and to continue my education,” says Mohns. “I have a background in sociology and psychology, but I get to work with epidemiologists, molecular biologists, and various other professionals with varying backgrounds, and the combination of thinking/working together inspires some amazing ideas and innovation to research.”
Before joining FHS, Mohns spent several years working with Canadian mental health in Red Deer, Alberta with a housing first program and a harm reduction agency called Turning Point. There, he did out-research work, examining health outcomes and problems when services are inadequately available. These included difficulties in government policies, lack of facilities such as washrooms, housing and food accessibility, issues of cultural safety, ongoing colonization, discrimination, and racism. Despite this, he feels inspired to use his skills to advocate for wellness for all, especially in the area of built environments.
“Built environments are often the background to our everyday lives; we really don’t appreciate or think about how important housing is, or the distance to a grocery store, or the affordability of healthy food until it affects us personally, yet this is the reality for many people,” Mohns explains. “I hope that we see what’s being done in these areas and look to improving them to created stronger healthier communities for future generations.”
Mohns, who began in the MSc program and transferred to the PhD program, advocates the importance of building relationships and learning from mistakes, citing his colleagues and peers that continue to support him through both his successes and mistakes. As for advice, he wants students to enjoy the experience.
“It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day courses, research, meetings; not many people get to graduate school,” he explains. “So, amongst all the chaos, deadlines, and stress, find some fun, enjoy your time in the program, and make some new friends, colleagues, and memories because you're only here for a short period of your life.”