You are posing an excellent question and one that does not have an easy answer.  There is a hereditary component to alcoholism, addiction and many mental illnesses.  Of course, not everyone who develops depression, an anxiety disorder of other psychological problem has a history of mental illness in their family.  Still, the percentage of individuals likely to develop these kinds of problems is definitely higher when there is a family history.

Few people really take this into account when planning to have a family, but it is an important thing to keep in mind.  Couples in which one member’s family has a history of mental illness and the other spouse’s family does not have less of a chance of encountering these issues with their biological children than couples where both families have such histories.  So part of the answer depends on whether your partner also has this family history.

There is no way of guessing whether one or more of your children will suffer from a serious or disabling mental condition. Children may seem healthy and function well in childhood, but carry a genetic vulnerability or predisposition to depression, bipolar illness, or other conditions. Many of these problems do not manifest until adulthood and sometimes emerge in response to an extraordinary stressor or trauma in the person’s life.

Despite the unpredictability of whether your child is individually vulnerable, there are some things you can do to influence the likelihood of these problems manifesting in your child.  Good prenatal care and infant care are very important both for the healthy physical and psychological development of the child. A loving and well-educated approach to parenting the child throughout their young life also gives your child an advantage in dealing with an illness should it arise later in life.

At an age-appropriate juncture, it would be wise to talk honestly and non-judgmentally about the family’s history of mental problems just as you might discuss a history of heart disease or diabetes in your family, conditions which also have a hereditary component.  The important thing is to let your child know about the existence of this history and to let them know that while they are unlikely to develop such a problem, it is important that if they start to feel like they are having trouble coping or turning to substances to cope, they should pay attention and talk to you about it sooner rather than later because there are treatments that can nip these problems in the bud. This can save you and your child many days, months or years of suffering.

It is not necessary to avoid having children because of having such a family history, but this is a very individual decision. Some people don’t want to take the chance of passing these difficulties along to any offspring they may have biologically.  Adoption is also an option for creating a family, but it is just as important to know health and mental health histories of the biological parents of an adopted child as it is for thinking through the decision to have biological children.  All in all, having children is always risky, but most people decide it is well worth all that is sacrificed and all that is not known to have the joy of creating a family.