US Representative Barney Frank acknowledged yesterday that for a brief time in 1989 he saw a psychiatrist and took antidepressant medication as he battled allegations from a gay prostitute and companion who had operated a sex-for-hire ring in the congressman's home.
''I was pretty dysfunctional for five or six weeks," Frank said in a brief interview, referring to the scandal that drew national attention and opened up his private sexual life to public scrutiny.
The 64-year-old congressman said he was still able to ''show up and vote" in the House during the period. He said he thought about stepping down from his congressional seat, but rejected the notion because he wanted to use the House Ethics Committee as a public forum to fight the allegations.
Frank has said that in the past that he fell into despair as the public scandal erupted in August 1989 and developed into a national scandal. Friends and colleagues also said at the time that they were worried about his mental and physical health. Frank said he lost significant weight.
But the Newton Democrat's disclosure he had taken Prozac and saw a psychiatrist offers new information about a period of Frank's life that took a terrible personal toll and nearly destroyed his political career.
The revelation comes also at a politically sensitive time because Frank, who was first elected to Congress from the Fourth District in 1980, is laying the groundwork for a potential race for the US Senate. Frank is one of several Democrats in the Massachusetts delegation who have said they would run in a special election next year for the seat John F. Kerry would vacate if he wins the presidency in November.
His statements about his depression were first reported in yesterday's New York Times, which had sought his comments about the explosive political events in New Jersey where Governor James E. McGreevey announced his resignation, after acknowledging he is gay and had an extramarital relationship with a man. McGreevey's decision was prompted by the pending sexual harassment suit from a former aide he had hired.
Frank disclosed he was gay in a May 1987 interview with The Boston Globe.
Frank's depression came as the furor raged over Stephen Gobie's allegations that Frank was aware that he ran a gay prostitution ring out of the congressman's Washington, D.C., apartment. Frank had met Gobie in 1985, and later hired him as a personal assistant and driver. He fired him in 1987.
Eventually, in July 1990, the House Ethics Committee, in a 57-report, rejected as untrue Gobie's charges that Frank knew about the prostitution ring or that Frank had committed sexual acts with Gobie in front of President Bush's locker in the House gymnasium.
But the panel did conclude that the congressman wrote a misleading memo that went to a Virginia prosecutor and was aimed at ending Gobie's probation on felony charges. It also found that 33 parking tickets issued to Frank's car, many when Gobie was driving, were improperly waived through the congressman's House privileges.
On its recommendation, the House issued a public reprimand to Frank. But he was easily reelected that year and has faced no serious opposition since.
Frank said yesterday that his depression turned to anger as Gobie's charges mounted. ''By October, it had turned from depression to anger," he said. ''It was clear I had a forum with the ethics committee. . . . By November, it was also clear I could refute everything."
US Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat who is dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, said Frank masked his depression well because neither he nor his other colleagues noticed that he was not functioning as usual.
''It was a very difficult time for him, but he was still an effective congressman," Markey said. ''He had a lot of friends who gave him support."
Lou DiNatale, the director of the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, said the political fallout from Frank's revelations would be insignificant.
''It's an issue that affects many Americans," said DiNatale. ''Under the circumstances, under the pressure he was facing, it was perfectly understandable the kind of help he sought. It would unlikely be used against him in a race 15 years later."
''The strength of Barney's candidacy would be his honesty," DiNatale said.