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Leon is leading the mental health fight

LEON McKenzie packed a punch in both football and boxing during his elite sporting career.

And he is now using his fighting spirit to knock down barriers for improved mental health awareness.

McKenzie played in the Premier League with Norwich City before switching to boxing after hanging up his boots and securing even more success.

But the 42-year-old is now a champion of a different kind as he continues to lead the way in changing attitudes towards depression after overcoming his own difficulties and perhaps his toughest fight so far.

“Within sport I’m the man who first came to the forefront of speaking out,” McKenzie told the Echo backed RunFree podcast.

“I didn’t fear being judged or anything that came with it.

“I’m happy to see so many sports people speaking out today but if you look back I’m the man who set it off.

“It’s never been about me but I just couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

“I kept reading about suicide after suicide and I couldn’t keep quiet anymore. It was about sharing my experiences. The world can be evil sometimes and not everyone has a good heart.

“But as far as I’m concerned there’s more people that hold on and fight than not.”

McKenzie now works as a fitness trainer and a boxing coach. But there was a time he struggled badly to deal with his own difficulties and ended up trying to take his own life.

“There was a time when I didn’t fight it and I did give up hope,” said McKenzie.

“I couldn’t see a way out of the dark place I was in towards the back end of my football career.

“I wasn’t coping well and I gave up which was a problem at the time

“But with educating myself and with the fighting spirit I have, ever since that day I’ve tried to reinvent myself.

“Every time I’ve fallen I’m all about the fightback.

“What you do after the fall can really shape your character.”

McKenzie is now an ambassador for Samaritans and CALM and co-hosts his own show on TalkSport. On top of that he regularly visits sporting clubs to speak about mental health and remains eager to alter people’s attitudes.

“It’s all about trying to inspire the generation that doesn’t really understand mental health conditions now because there are so many,” said McKenzie.

“The key is to not stay down for too long and keep moving forward the best you can.

“Fight it, get help, talk, that’s what I believe in.”

>The full podcast is now available to listen to.

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