Former City star opens up about depression and masculinity at Forum event

Former Norwich City player Leon McKenzie talks about his life with depression during an event at the

Former Norwich City player Leon McKenzie talks about his life with depression during an event at the Forum. Photo Simon Finlay

In the first slide of Leon McKenzie's presentation about mental health, he showed an old photo of him shirtless on the football field, celebrating a triumphant goal against Manchester United.

In the second slide, there was simply a quote: ''What is depression like?' he whispered. 'It's like drowning. Except you can see everyone around you breathing.''

For Mr McKenzie, 38-year-old former Norwich City striker, this moment of formally addressing his personal experience of depression is a long time coming. He spoke at the Forum yesterday at an event hosted by Norwich Mind, aptly named It's a Man Thing.

Mr McKenzie is now a professional boxer, having won all ten fights he's been in, and a father of five, but he remembers a time when he could barely keep his head above water.

Back during his Norwich City days, for fear of not looking masculine, he didn't tell his teammates about his bouts of depression.

'The whole male thing going on within the changing rooms was really daunting at the time. I didn't want to tell anyone,' he said.

In 2009, his psychological problems came to a head when he realized his career in football was coming to an end and didn't know how to cope with various injuries.

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'My body didn't hold up, my hamstrings were going all the time. I've always played from my heart but I was living from a broken place. I wasn't myself anymore,' he said.

One day he pulled a hamstring and walked off the field without saying anything. He sat in his car and cried on the phone to his mother.

Later that night, in a hotel room, he tried to commit suicide. He woke up disoriented in hospital with his family around him.

'At that particular point, in boxing terms, I lost a couple of wins,' he said.

Since then, there have been good days and bad days. Mr McKenzie went through two divorces, spent six months in jail for elaborately trying to avoid a driving ban and admits to being less financially sound than he has been in the past.

What counts, he said, is moving forward. Boxing, for instance, 'came into my life in a time of need.' His book, My Fight with Life, was released in 2012.

He also alluded to using his athletic experience to give back to the Norwich community that's supported him for so long.

'Hopefully I'll set up something big for mental health in Norwich,' he said.

For now, he offered words of wisdom to anyone who might be going through a similar internal struggle.

'My motto is #fightit. Fight it, for me, has so much positivity in those words. Whatever your profession is, whether you're a football player or a bus driver, we all have triggers. But we can all fight it,' he said.

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