Raven Fairley feared the worst. It was Halloween night 2021, and bad news was getting out: Malik Harrison had been involved in a shooting in Cleveland. That was all she knew. She couldn’t reach him. Her imagination filled in the blanks.

“I didn’t know,” she recalled recently. “When I just saw ‘shot,’ I didn’t know where he was shot, if he was still alive.”

Harrison, then a second-year inside linebacker for the Ravens, had been struck in the calf by a stray bullet outside a nightclub while the Ravens were on their bye. The injury was not life-threatening; Harrison returned to game action less than a month later.

Mentally, though, the recovery took much longer. Fairley had known Harrison for about four years. He’d eased her initial concerns shortly after the shooting, telling her he was fine. But Fairley had never heard Harrison cry until they spoke on the phone a few days later.

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“I was down, definitely,” Harrison said in an interview. “Just seeing my teammates out there competing and also just knowing that I could’ve lost my life — the bullet could’ve went left, right. You never know. It could’ve been the end of my career.”

It instead marked the start of something else: a willingness to open up, to recognize his mental health needs, to start talk therapy. Only a week after the incident, Harrison visited with Tricia Bent-Goodley, the Ravens’ team clinician. The check-ins soon became a part of his weekly in-season routine.

For so long, Harrison had tried to figure things out for himself. He’d arrived at Ohio State as a three-star prospect and left as a two-year starter and all-conference selection. He’d started as a rookie in Baltimore.

But he was also a private person — “super-duper reserved,” as Fairley put it. She worried that the longer Harrison kept his feelings bottled up, the more he risked. He had to process his trauma somehow.

“I definitely didn’t notice that I needed to talk to anybody,” Harrison said. “I always thought about trying to work it out by myself. And since I started to talk to her [Fairley], I just noticed that talking to her, talking to Dr. Trish, I noticed that it was making me better — and not just mentally, but spiritually, physically and everything. Because they lift me up every time I talk to them. There might be some bad conversations, might be some good ones, but at the end of the day, at the end of the conversation, it’s going to be a good one. And it’s going to make me feel better.”

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Fairley knew it would take some effort. She’d met Harrison near the end of Ohio State’s 2017 season through Jerome Baker, now a Miami Dolphins inside linebacker and a former roommate of Harrison’s. They chatted one day as Baker met with agents in Dallas and developed a close bond. “She’s like my sister,” Harrison said with a laugh.

Fairley, who’d worked as a student staffer for the Missouri football team and interned with the Dallas Cowboys after college, was familiar with the bubbles athletes built for themselves. She also knew how easily they could be punctured. The mental health organization she’d founded, The Silent Injury, uses athletes “to bring awareness to mental health and well-being,” she said.

After Harrison was shot, Fairley worried not only for him physically but also mentally. On Instagram, she noticed people wondering why he’d put himself in that situation, speculating on his future in the NFL, jumping to judgments she feared might resonate with Harrison.

“As a player, you really want to be with your team and contributing and doing your part,” Fairley said. “And so not being able to do that, I think that part took a toll on him, just because it was kind of out of his hands.”

Harrison was “withdrawn” for a while, Fairley said. Harrison acknowledged that he was slow to respond to her texts, reluctant to pick up her phone calls. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has championed mental health awareness at the school, but for Harrison, it still had a stigma. “I felt like I needed to just do it on my own,” he said.

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“I think he didn’t want to talk to anybody because sometimes, even just as a man in general, men don’t always want to express their emotions or their feelings to anyone at the time, and they want to come off, like, macho and, like, ‘I’m OK,’ and, ‘I got it,’ and, ‘I don’t want pity or sympathy,’” Fairley said. “And even before he’d gotten shot, I’ve seen how he handled adversity in his life, and that’s always been his go-to. His protection is just, for him, to deal with it on his own, in his own way and not really talk about it.”

She remembered telling him: “If you keep everything in, one day, you’re going to have an intense breakdown, and we don’t want that. You need to process how you’re feeling, no matter how it makes you feel in the moment, so that people can be there for you and help you.”

Finally, Harrison was convinced. He went to talk to Bent-Goodley, believed to be one of the few full-time clinicians in the NFL. He said he learned he could talk to her “about any and everything.” He embraced self-care techniques, working through some of his toughest days with the help of long car rides, the music of rapper J. Cole playing on the speakers.

“I really feel increasingly that so many of our athletes are now looking for that [mental health] support, almost expecting, on some level, that our institutions are going to provide it,” Bent-Goodley, who was not available for an interview, said earlier this year on the “Unit3d” podcast. “And I love that, because I believe that they should.”

Said Harrison: “Everybody that’s going through something, you at least need to talk to somebody. Somebody that you trust, somebody that you love. Just talk to somebody. Just let it out. You can’t always just have it on your shoulders, because that’s going to weigh you down a lot. And I learned that with Dr. Trish. … Just talking to somebody is going to relieve all that stress off you because they’re going to show you something different than what you’re thinking at the time.”

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Harrison emerged from those sessions as a more mature, more self-assured person — “kind of elevated, if that makes sense,” Fairley said. More honest about his feelings. Better at reckoning with them. More willing to set up boundaries in his life, Fairley said, “because, obviously, he has so much that he can lose.”

And unafraid of sharing those lessons learned. Harrison talked briefly about his mental health journey in an interview with the team website last year and more expansively Thursday, after the Ravens’ third practice of organized team activities.

Fairley said it’s her hope that as mental health becomes less stigmatized — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and quarterback Lamar Jackson recently held a fundraiser for the cause — society becomes “more proactive than reactive.” She knows how much therapy has helped Harrison, and so does he. He said he still checks in with Bent-Goodley whenever he’s around the team facility, even in the offseason.

“I got all the resources that I need,” Harrison said. “I know what to do the next time that I’m in that situation. I know exactly what to do. And if there’s other people that I can tell … I tell them, ‘Hey, if you want to talk, you can come talk to me.’”