So how's your week been? Oh, don't ask? Sorry to hear that. If it's any consolation, things could be worse. No, really, they could, and this week there are a clutch of programmes that should make those of us without any real problems feel ashamed and resolve to stop taking our privileged lives for granted. And then feel more ashamed for making it all about us, again.
Because while the plight of Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children is as heart-rending as you might expect from a covertly shot film made by Jezza Neumann, who made the Bafta-winning China's Stolen Children, what's really shocking is how avoidable it all is. It's distressing to watch these desperately poor children scrabbling for survival; they root through rubbish heaps in order to find bottles and bones to sell, pan for specks of gold dust to earn a few dollars, try to trap tiny birds for a mouthful of meat to supplement a meagre diet, and care for their dying mothers or baby siblings when barely more than babies themselves.
When they talk about how tired and sad and hopeless they feel, they know their lives should be different. If they could just raise the money for school fees, around 6.50 a term, they might have a chance.
And Xoliswa Sithole agrees, because the reporter who presents this film was herself brought up in Zimbabwe – but a very different Zimbabwe. In fact, the official film that she's supposedly making is all about her wonderful education only a few years ago when it was the "jewel of Africa". We see her pitch this to Robert Mugabe and he beams: "That's good, that's good."
Yet on finding how much had changed, Sithole's focus changed too and the result is an angry film that challenges lazy assumptions about African countries. At one point, she becomes outraged at people having to relieve themselves in the bush instead of using a toilet as they haven't flushed for two years – just as we would be, if the infrastructure of one of our cities broke down. Her shock is telling: this is not "just how things are in Africa" but a preventable situation based on the policies of an imploding regime.
For 12-year-old Obert, panning for gold and desperately trying to attend school – where 90 per cent of the children registered are shooed away when they can't pay the fees – the effects of this implosion will influence his whole future. "My life is a sad life. Knowing that while I am struggling others are not suffering weighs heavy on my heart," he says.
There's tragedy closer to home in Why Did You Kill My Dad? about the random murder of 75-year-old Philip Hendy, stabbed by a man with a long history of mental illness (he thought he was the secret child of Prince Charles).
Mr Hendy's son Julian, as it happened, is an established documentary maker, so he went on to make this very personal film about what happened. It's sad, but what's really worrying is his argument about why it happened; Hendy believes that the "service user" philosophy of mental health professionals, focusing on patients' rights rather than potential dangers, is putting the public at risk and not helping those with severe problems. It's a polemical film and raises disturbing questions that aren't easily answered.
A rather different query comes up in the title of My Daughter Grew Another Head And Other True Life Stories. But the answer, sadly, turns out to be less interesting than you might think (a girl with a growth deficiency had a balloon put in her neck to help the skin stretch). These "real life" magazine stories are never quite as juicy as the cover lines promise, a fact this documentary exploits by having people introduce themselves by saying things like: "Hello, my name is Kate and a lion ate my head." We never hear the full story, but presumably he didn't swallow.
These kinds of magazines – That's Life!, Pick Me Up, Take A Break, you know the kind – are apparently read by over nine million people a week, of which almost nine million then go "Eww!" and read them out to anyone else in the tea break room at the time (we've all done it).
The focus, mistakenly I think, is on the mostly freelance journalists who hunt out those with bizarre or tragic stories that they're prepared to share for (not all that much) money, whether it's about the recipes of their cannibal chef pal, their 7,000 bum implants ("for everyone involved, Henry's bottom has become a gold mine" – ouch), or the sad deaths of their children in a road accident. "My personal morals don't allow me to be incredibly choosy about what I do," says one journo smugly of her grubby business (yes, I am aware that's ironic coming from any hack, because we've all done some variation on persuading people to bare their souls, but publications which don't pay interviewees get to feel morally superior, OK?).
The show also makes a mistake to only touch in passing on the reasons that people are drawn to these stories. The mostly working-class and female readers, it suggests, are comforted that whatever is going on in their own lives can't be so bad. See, we all do it.
Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children
Monday, BBC 4, 9pm
Why Did You Kill My Dad?
Monday, BBC2, 9pm
My Daughter Grew Another Head And Other True Life Stories
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm
This article was originally published in The Scotsman on 27 February 2010