CHICAGO — The U.S. surgeon general calls the youth mental health crisis a defining issue of our time.

A new study takes a closer look at how one program is improving outcomes for young women in Chicago. Youth Guidance’s “Working on Womanhood” program provides trauma-informed support for students right at school.

“Wow at its core is a school-based group counseling program,” Ngozi Harris, the director of WOW program and staff development said.

“We’re taking them to spaces in the school where they’re talking about things most of the time they never had a chance to talk about. They’re getting a chance to have the opportunity to make mistakes and feel empowered to make change and do something different,” Harris said.

In 2017, the University of Chicago Education Lab launched a study including more than 2,000, mostly Black and Latina girls in CPS high schools.

“Girls prior to the program had rates of probable PTSD and moderate trauma-related distress at 38 percent — that’s twice that of Iraq and Afghani war veterans,” Dr. Monica Bhatt said.

Bhatt, a part of the research team, said the program reduces PTSD by 22%, as well as reducing anxiety and depression significantly.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has been sounding the alarm on mental health for young people.

“I’m here to speak about what I believe is the defining health issue of our time and that is youth mental health crisis,” Murthy said.

He also attributes the crisis to the impact of social media as well as the effects of the pandemic and violence-related trauma.

Nearly one-third of the girls participating in the study reported they had witnessed someone being assaulted or killed.

Researchers say the study is some of the first rigorous evidence that can inform better policy to help young women and Harris says the findings are not surprising.

“It just reaffirmed what we have already seen already knew — that they were experiencing a lot and they’re holding it in and that ability to create safe spaces is what matters,” Harris said.