Today, the average American has only two close friends, and almost one in four has absolutely no one to confide in. Those are the frightening findings of Startling Isolation in America, a new study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona. The exploding growth of loneliness has left millions of Americans stranded in a desert comprised of long work hours, commute times, gated communities and the lure of personal technology. The latter is probably the biggest culprit as far too many Americans gab on cell phone, e-mail and chat rooms. The intimacy of true friendship is but an illusion. And it might literally prove deadly. In a report publicized in the July 2006 edition of National Geographic Magazine, suicide is the number fifth cause of death in the United States. It is preceded by heart disease (#1), cancer (#2), stroke (#3) and automobile accidents (#4). Mental health professionals tell us that loneliness is a key factor in suicide. While time may be more precious then ever, we do yearn for human connection. Turn off the computer. Invite in a neighbor. Have lunch with a colleague. Exercise in tandem with a friend. Set aside time for camaraderie ands closeness. Friendship is worth the work and you'll reap the rewards.