Leon Mckenzie

Today, we’re incredibly fortunate to share our conversation with Leon McKenzie, the former Norwich City Premier League Footballer & Professional Boxer.

Who could possibly imagine a player scoring against Manchester United, in front of 25,000 fans, at a time where Rooney and Scholes were in top form, only to know that on the inside, he was battling one of the toughest periods of his life.

Leon Mckenzie for Norwich FC.
Leon Mckenzie for Norwich FC.

Leon McKenzie had been battling depression for as long as he can recall, attempting suicide just 3 years before hanging his boots.

Nonetheless, he didn’t stop fighting after retiring from professional football.

Taking the fight into boxing, he stepped into the ring to become a professional boxer, where he won an International masters belt and fought for the English Super Middleweight title in 2016, losing by a split decision.

Leon Speaks On Depression to Empower Mag

“I made my debut when I was 17 years old, scoring twice – but my journey was full of injuries and that psychologically damaged me,” Leon shares with Ally Salama of Empower Magazine.

Depression affected me very much. Even at the pinnacle of my career, I had been suffering. Football brought me fantastic memories, scoring 115 career goals; it was my boyhood dream. It also brought in a lot of money as well as a lot of instability. I was not coping well at all with real life. I remember very well that back when I was playing [2000-2013], mental health was a huge taboo. I was bottling a lot of things up. In 2010, I didn’t want to exist anymore. I ruptured my Achilles, expecting prison for speeding offenses… It was a very dark place.”

Our conversation with Leon was a testament to the current reality of many famed stars under spotlights, some of whom we may not know of, who may be experiencing severe mental health-related illnesses.

On Attempting His Life.

“After attempting my life, there was a lightbulb moment to not only fight back but to start speaking. I jumped straight into a fighting ring for my 2nd career and retired at 39 years. In the 4 years in Pro Boxing, I was trying to make a difference. Today I’m in the process of making my own charity, the “Fight It” charity,” says Leon.

Many factors came into play which led up to the unsuccessful attempt, which would go on to change Leon’s life for good.

Our talk automatically shifted towards men’s behavior and attitude towards talking and the fear that remains existent to a large extent in today’s society, despite the alarming rates of suicide being much higher in men than women.

“As Men, We Don’t Wanna Show The World How We’re Feeling”

“We don’t want to be seen as weak. Bringing awareness is fundamental in our communities today. There’s still a massive stigma around men today – it’s pretty scary.” Leon McKenzie articulates on the severity of Men’s Mental Health.

According to MeeTwo, a British multi-award winning app that helps teenagers talk about difficult things and get immediate support, 1 in 4 boys aged 16- 25 self-harms. The platform states that the number of boys who self-harm is estimated to have increased by 300% since 2000. While that may be an accurate estimate, the truth is, no one really knows how many boys self-harm because boys don’t ask for help.

“What we do know, is that boys who self-harm are 17 times more likely to die by suicide. Since suicide is now the leading cause of death in young people, and boys account for 75% of all youth suicides, providing boys with access to safe support is crucial.”

-MeeTwo, UK

Fight It, Get Help, Talk.

“Five powerful words that can save your life or somebody else’s” is the slogan of Leon’s Mental Health Awareness Movement, “Fight It”.

I don’t care if you’re rich, poor, something could happen in your life and it could change everything.

Leon Mckenzie

Leon’s dedication on fighting the stigma stems wider than his efforts in the ring or on the pitch. Currently, his work revolves around coaching boxing whilst playing an important role in the lives of those he coaches.

He has also developed “Fight It” into merchandise to help raise awareness and fund all the initiatives revolving around talking and raising awareness in the UK.

“When you speak out, that makes all the difference. Holding onto what’s inside due to social pressures only makes it worse. We all have the choice, whether we know it consciously or subconsciously. When I made the decision after many years of battling in silence; that changed my life,” says Leon, on getting help.

Leon Representing “Fight It. Get Help. Talk.”

Leon Mckenzie on Self Love

Deeper into our call, Leon mentioned a trap many of us often fall into. Often times, high achievers are usually their own worst critics. And while indeed, pressure makes diamonds, too much pressure applied cracks diamonds, and that too can be applied for us, human beings.

“I’ve had money, achieved a lot and now have 5 kids who are my world, and they’re always a sense of unhappiness I’m trying to fill. Even when I do great things, I’m my worst enemy. I can tell you, some days I really don’t like being me. But once you start realizing what’s actually going on, and understanding your mind, looking over everything you’ve done, applying gratitude becomes everything. The world beats ourselves up, so why not be kind to ourselves?”

The term “Self Love” is often overseen by men due to the nature of the word, however, the underlying meaning of it becomes essential in healing and coping during times of distress.

Journalling and self-reflection, as well as applying gratitude, all account for self-care; a process that becomes an essential throughout one’s life for the betterment of their health and wellbeing.

Advice From The Former Pro Footballer & Boxer

In our final segment with Leon Mckinzie, a role model for the worldwide community advocating for mental health, we come to establish critical points to living a purposeful, balanced and healthy life.

Here are some tips from the man himself:
  1. Understand that you are always re-inventing yourself no matter what age you’re at. 
  2. Stay ridiculously busy doing things that aren’t necessarily “work-related” – but instead – on activities that fulfill your spirit and bring happiness into your life. No matter how simple or silly they may be.
  3. Be around people that are good for your mental health. Avoid being people who drain your energy and make you feel less than you’re worth.
  4. Give people a chance.

On behalf of the Empower team, we’d love to personally thank Leon for choosing to speak with the team and communicating freely with our founder, Ally Salama.

The #PeopleOfEmpower Series aims to shed light on mental well-being through the inclusion of individuals in leadership positions within their communities.

Get your writing featured on Empower Mag Today!

Join the conversation on our Facebook Group: “The Empower Community”