The body, which represents family doctors in the UK, plans to extend training from three to four years to incorporate additional training in the management of mental health conditions in younger people.
Currently fewer than half of GPs take part in a paediatric or psychiatry placement during their training despite RCGP estimates that tens of thousands of 15 to 34-year-olds are currently suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.
GPs have crucial role to play
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said: "The majority of GPs are skilled at supporting young people and families in their generalist role but fewer than half of GPs are given the opportunity to undertake a paediatric or psychiatry training placement during their training.
"The vast majority of NHS care for children and young people is delivered by general practice teams and so GPs have a crucial role to play in improving the mental health of younger people. Youth mental health is a clinical priority for the RCGP and we are embarking on a number of important projects to raise awareness of youth mental health and simple things that GPs can do to give our younger patients a more positive experience."
As a result, the RCGP says that there should be increased focus on equipping GPs to deal with the common mental health problems faced by younger people – including improving mental resilience, managing anxiety, depression and self-harm, identifying suicide risk and in the early recognition of psychosis.
Tackle mental health as early as possible
As part of an enhanced four-year training programme, all GP trainees would receive specialist-led training in child health and mental health. The RCGP is also working with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and charity Young Minds to develop ways that GPs and specialists can train together to work more effectively when caring for young people with mental health problems.
Dr Baker added: "Children and young peoples’ mental health and wellbeing is fundamental to their physical health. Statistics show that 75% of adults with mental health problems will have presented symptoms by the age of 18 – and 50% by the age of 15 – and so it makes sense that we do more to tackle mental health problems as early as possible."
According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of 15 to 34-year-olds taking their own lives was around 1,600 in 2011, an average of more than four every day.
Minister for care and support Norman Lamb said: "It's a bit hit-and-miss as to whether you get a GP who really understands the issues.
"I think in the past mental health has always been the poor relation and we've got to change that. In terms of its impact on people it's much more significant than many physical health problems."