Barbara Webb has been speaking out against the silence.
When the Colonial Life employee lost her brother – a father figure in her life – to suicide in 1992, awareness and prevention were topics she rarely, if ever, heard discussed publicly.
“There are illnesses out there like cancer and diabetes,” Webb said. “We talk about those, but it’s difficult for people to talk about mental health and suicide.”
But after her own family tragedy, Webb starting talking about it with her mother and followed that with countless hours of volunteer work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
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Webb’s positive outlook and determination and her hours of volunteer work were recognized last week when she was named Colonial Life’s Volunteer of the Year.
The award is given annually to a Columbia-based employee of Colonial Life or an affiliate of its parent company, Unum, who exhibits excellence in volunteer activities, has a positive outlook about volunteerism, is an inspiration to co-workers and whose activities have had an effect on the quality of life in the community.
Webb, a Clemson University graduate, was selected from roughly 1,000 employees at the Columbia site.
“True volunteerism is not doing it for self but doing it for someone else who may not have the opportunity to receive assistance,” Webb said. “It’s so important for me to speak on behalf of my brother and to give him a voice. I want to let people know that it does not have to be a taboo subject and there is help.”
But her service has not been confined to the arena of suicide prevention.
For the past four years, she has served as a committee member or chairwoman for the Columbia Out of the Darkness Walk, during which she helped organize the walk path, worked with the media, recruited volunteers and made sure mental health expert contacts were available.
She also participated in the walk.
Webb is president of the Edisto Clemson Club Alumni Board and is a Clemson Alumni Council representative.
She previously volunteered the first Saturday of each month at the Orangeburg County Historical Society and served on Colonial Life’s United Way core team from 2006-12.
“Barbara’s work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Columbia Out of the Darkness Walk displays an amazing love for men, women and families battling mental illness,” said Colonial Life president and CEO Tim Arnold. “It is an honor to recognize her work to raise awareness and reduce stigma of issues surrounding suicide and mental illness.”
Colonial Life has been a standard bearer for volunteer service in the Midlands for many years. Last year, employees contributed more than $2.1 million to charitable organizations, including more than 12,600 hours of volunteer service.
“I’ve been with the company 24 years and there are so many people who I know who volunteer,” Webb said. “It just says a lot about who Colonial is, not only by how they contribute financially but how they give of their time. It’s just makes me so proud to be a part of that legacy.”
Colonial Life will donate $1,000 in Webb’s honor to her charity of choice, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.