Nigel Oglethorpe ended up on welfare after being made redundant. He was then diagnosed with cancer.
"It isn't easy to survive," he told reporters in Sydney outside a Senate committee hearing into the adequacy of the Newstart allowance.
"It's really depressing. You can't function properly, you're dealing with a serious illness, all while basically having no money to deal with the illness - it's psychologically damaging."
Mr Oglethorpe, who's in his mid-40s, said it was no wonder many recipients ended up anxious and depressed.
"That's our daily existence," he said.
"Worrying about where we're getting the money to pay the bills."
The federal government is under pressure to raise the dole from just $40 a day given it's barely budged for 25 years.
Australian Council of Social Service senior advisor Charmaine Crowe spoke alongside Mr Oglethorpe on Friday outside the public hearing in Sydney's CBD.
The community services organisation is urging the Morrison government to increase Newstart by $75 per week.
"It would right a fairness failure in Australia and it would address one of the biggest social justice issues that we have," Ms Crowe told reporters.
A volunteer at the Australian Unemployed Workers Union was close to tears when addressing the same press conference.
Tom Studans, who suffers from anxiety and severe depression, has been on Newstart for nearly six years.
The 27-year-old told reporters he was "bumped" from addressing the upper house inquiry at the last minute after declaring he had an unpaid role with the union.
"I wanted to talk today to my personal grief about losing a workmate, a volunteer on our social media team, who we found out committed suicide around two weeks ago," Mr Studans told reporters.
"We had no indication that anything was wrong, we simply didn't hear from them for a couple of days ... and then we found out."
Mr Studans said his former colleague - who he referred to as L - also had mental health issues and struggled to survive on Newstart.
"From my experience, it is impossible to get continuous, quality psychological or psychiatric treatment on Newstart," he said.
"There is a direct link between policy and suicide."